National Writing Project

Final Papers: A Chapter from Composing Science: A Facilitator's Guide to Writing in the Classroom

Date: October 2016

Summary: In this chapter from Composing Science, authors Leslie Atkins Elliot, Kim Jaxon, and Irene Salter explain how to construct writing assignments that emphasize helping students develop and explore scientific ideas, in dialogue with a classroom scientific community.


Excerpt from Chapter:

Rhetorical structures, which may be useful in organizing ideas and helping us find the holes in our arguments, can do only so much in helping us have an argument to make in the first place. If students 'cannot' write a topic sentence, it is likely that they have no topic sentence. If they do well on all but the "analysis" section of a lab report—and why report on a lab if not for the analysis?—then it is likely that they have no real analysis to share. These structures can help highlight that, but all the writing instruction, rubrics, and templates cannot give students something to say.

It is, therefore, critical that students have something to say—a hard-won idea that they are proud of, a unique insight that they have developed, a representation or a piece of evidence or a way of phrasing an idea, or even a question that their investigations have helped them articulate. One aim of our course is to help students have scientific ideas they want to share. That, in a nutshell, can be considered the underlying goal of lab notebooks, whiteboards, class discussions, definitions, and reading annotations. And the purpose of the final writing assignments is to give students a place where they can say it."

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