Teach the Earth > > > A Simple Approach to Improve Student Writing

A Simple Approach to Improve Student Writing

Catherine A. Carlson
Eastern Connecticut State University
Author Profile

This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Jun 27, 2005


I demonstrate a simple approach to help students think and write scientifically/critically. The approach uses the journalistic questions of who, what, where, when, how, and why.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



I use this activity in a required, junior-level hydrology course for majors, but it could be adapted for use at any level.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have basic college writing skills.

How the activity is situated in the course

I present this approach during lecture early in the course, after students have begun their first assignment (lab or homework) but before the assignment is due.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The primary goals of this activity are writing scientifically and understanding that writing is a process.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Critical thinking and critical writing integrated with the scientific method.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

Students are introduced to a simple approach to scientific writing. To make the writing process immediately relevant to them, I present the approach after they have started the first assignment of the semester (whether lab or homework) but before it is due. Thus, students are more attentive to the presentation and are more invested in trying to apply the approach to a current assignment. As a class, we begin by answering the question "what did you do?" followed by answering the questions "who, what, where, when, how, and why?" as appropriate to develop the first paragraph/section. Next, we answer the question "what did you find?" followed by the questions "who, what, where, when, how, and why?" as appropriate to develop the second paragraph/section. Finally, we review what we have written and add the finishing touches (e.g., title, references, figures, etc.). Thus, students learn how to pose and answer basic questions that form the basis of a scientific report.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students are required to use the writing approach for all assignments throughout the semester. The reports are graded based on completeness (i.e., all the appropriate questions have been answered) and correctness.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Download teaching materials and tips

Other Materials