Exercises to teach scientific reading comprehension and mineralogic concepts

Kurt Hollocher
Union College
Author Profile


With a set of tasks and questions as a guide, students read through an article doing the tasks and answering questions as they go. The object is to develop a comprehensive understanding of the science in the paper.

Used this activity? Share your experiences and modifications



This exercise is part of an undergraduate required course in mineralogy that includes crystal chemistry, crystal structure, and optical mineralogy.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students must understand some chemistry and basic concepts of light absorption. They also must understand some basic mineralogic concepts such as crystal growth, variable chemical composition, and crystal shape.

How the activity is situated in the course

I start assigning these readings the fourth week of the term, after covering basic background material such as crystal form, crystal structure, and basic crystal chemistry. Each is a one week homework assignment.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The main goal is to give students a better idea how to read and interpret scientific papers. Secondary goals include learning some advanced topics specific to the papers that are not covered in any detail in the class, and practicing data analysis of different sorts.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

These include reading comprehension, interpretation of data and support of conclusions by data.

Other skills goals for this activity

These exercises have minimal writing, but that writing must be succinct and accurate. Practice in writing precision is therefore a tertiary goal.

Description of the activity/assignment

Students read a short paper from the scientific literature on a narrowly focused mineralogical topic. Reading is guided by a 1-page set of questions and tasks, arranged in sequence with the paper, that make students look at the details of data, arguments, and conclusions. The tangible result is properly answered questions and typically some graphs, but the student gains a less tangible improved understanding of how to read scientific papers in general and an improved understanding of that particular paper in particular.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Tasks set out in the written guide are all answered or performed correctly. In many classes, a short discussion of the paper further indicates how well students have understood the article.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Teaching materials and tips

Other Materials