Exercises to practice understanding and evaluating claims.
Students must learn to use their knowledge to substantiate claims and evaluate new information. The resources below are useful to practice critical thinking, together with resources at Search & Write.
Writing to think
What: Technique for getting started.
When: In seminars.
How: Give students the first few words of a sentence, and ask them to continue writing for a certain number of minutes.
- "What I think about when using artificial intelligence in my field is ...".
- "What I find exciting in my field is ..."
- "What I'm interested in in science and technology is ..."
- "An important thing most people should know about my subject is ..."
"Odd one out"
What: An exercise to practice reason for a point of view.
When: In lectures and seminars.
How: Show students four to five pictures or illustrations related to the topic. Ask the question "Which one is different than the other?" Students get time to think individually before they share in pairs and discuss their answers based on the syllabus. A good, so-called "rich", task has several answers that may be completely or partially correct.
- Complete the assignment as a think-pair-part assignment (see Terms and concepts).
- Use words, concepts, formulas, code or figures instead of pictures.
- Have students create assignments for each other in groups.
- Link the discussion to a writing assignment where students must write a short, argumentative essay that for example starts with "X is not like the others because ..."
What: Structured writing exercise to find a good research question.
When: In seminars.
How: Give clear instructions to make sure that everyone in the room participates. The exercise includes seven steps.
- Start thinking about the topic. Students write freely for four to five minutes, starting with an open phrase, for example: "I'm curious to know...".
- Then, ask the students to complete the following sentence: "What I really want to say is ...". (The students have made a claim.)
- Then, ask the student to transform the statement into a question. (The students have made a draft of a problem or research question.)
- Ask the students to write five different versions of the preliminary research question. One way to do this is to change the query word of the sentence.
- The students select the two best research questions and use them as inspiration to write three more versions of the research questions. This gives a list of five subtly different research questions.
- Repeat step 5 if necessary.
- Let students select their favorite research question and share in groups.
After the exercise, it may be helpful to discuss the relevant next steps in the writing process, such as finding relevant information, what experiments or research they can do.
- Close reading to learn what characterizes good writing in the subject (see below)
- Use PostIT-bonanza for structuring ideas and drafts (see Structure)
- Use Reverse outline to get an overview of the text ( see Structure).
What: Writing exercise to practice building an argument. Developed by Pamela Flash (UMN)
When: In lectures and seminars.
How: Give clear instructions, everyone in the room participates. Set the timer to five minutes. Students write individually until the time is out. Then, students discuss in pairs or small groups.
Example: “Before the break, let's do a short writing exercise. First I want you to write a list of at least three different arguments in support of performing human gene editing. Discuss the ideas in pairs and pick your most interesting argument. Then, make an outline for a short text in which you use the syllabus to argue for gene editing in humans."
- Ask students to find opposing arguments to a given statement.
- Divide the group in two, and let each half find find arguments that support or challenge the claim.
- See also the Discussion exercises (see Terms and concept)
What: Various exercises to understand what characterizes good writing in the field. The exercises can be used to activate prior knowledge, and to establish a common framework for how to talk about good writing in the field.
When: In seminars, preferably in advance of writing assignments where students need to use specific writing skills.
How: The seminar teacher gives instructions on what students should look for as they read. This may be the structure of the entire text, order of arguments, structure of a single paragraph, use of reader guides, or other relevant elements.
Be clear that the goal is not to look for mistakes and be critical. The goal of the exercise is to practice reading to discover what the writer has thought and planned with each sentence and paragraph.
Example: Hand out the text, set the timer to approximately 8 minutes per 500 words. Students read and make notes in the margin, at least one comment per paragraph.
When the time is up, students discuss their findings in small groups for five to ten minutes. The seminar teacher reads paragraph by paragraph and the students comment based on their group discussions.
- Critical reading (see below)
- Placing a problem in a larger context (see ABT - And-But-Therefore, below)
- Arguing for a point of view (see An argumentative paragraph, below)
- Get an overview of the assignment (see PostIT Bonanza and Reverse outline, under Structure)
- Discussion about fellow students' texts (see Peer-review under Feedback)
- Students decide what to look for in the text
- Reverse outline provides an overview of the text's structure. (see Structure)
- Close reading can be used as part of peer review. Students do not read to check correctness, but instead try to understand the writers thinking.
- Use colored pens to mark sentences that refer to other researchers with one color, and sentences that present the writer's own arguments in a different color.
- Use color to mark references to figures, tables, formulas and codes.
- Use color to mark sentences that instruct the reader on structure and expectation. ("First," "on the one hand," "we shall return to" or "as mentioned").
What: An exercise to practice critically assessing a research article. Critical reading also helps train students in evaluating sources and assertions.
When: In seminars, for example together with a writing assignment where students summarize or respond to the research article.
How: The seminar teacher helps the students to get an overview of the research article, and then uses specific questions to guide the students to critically evaluate the content. Students work alone or in small groups, with a summary and discussion after each of the three parts.
Part 1. Preliminary questions:
- Who are the authors and what is their affiliation with the field?
- When was the article published, and what may have changed since then?
- What is the journal's target audience?
- What is the language and style of the paper?
- How is the text, figures and tables structured?
Part 2. Questions to guide critical reading:
- What is the research article about?
- What is the unanswered question that scientists are trying to find answers to?
- What methods have the researchers chosen as an approach to the research question?
- Are choices of theory, background and / or method clearly defined and easily described?
- Do the results match the objectives of the study?
- Has the author stated any limitations and interpretations?
- How does the author place the results in the context of other research?
- Does the author appear objective or subjective, and how does that affect the article?
Part 3. Questions to stimulate discussion and writing assignments:
- What is the research question and the main finding in the research article?
- What results or findings support the most important statement in the text?
- What are the strengths and weaknesses of the discussion?
- What makes the reasoning seem credible or not?
- How can the results be followed up by other experiments?
Please note that an excessive focus on critical reading can make it more difficult for students to write their own texts later on. The critical perspective may impede on the students' ability to write freely, and can make it difficult for them to develop their early drafts.
Crafting an argument
What: Exercises to practice crafting an argument.
When: In seminars.
How: If necessary, the seminar teacher provides a brief introduction to the structure of an argument and how to argue in academic writing.
An argument consist of reasoning with the following elements:
- a claim that you argue in favour of
- an argument you argue with
- a statement that links the claim to the argument
Use Søk & Skriv for a detailed description and instruction to construct an argument.
Students can then practice writing a short, argumentative paragraph. Take time to discuss how the argument is structured, how it affects the reader, and what makes the argument effective.
For more detailed descriptions of argumentation in academic texts, see:
- Birkenstein Cathy, og Graff, Gerald. "They Say / I Say": The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. 2005
- Use close reading to learn to recognize argumentation in academic writing (see above)
- Use "5-minute paper" to practice writing and structuring claims and evidence (see above)
"ABT" – And-But-Therefore
What: An exercise to help students place their project in a context.
When: Students who need to create direction for their text, or to sharpen their understanding of how their own research is related to something bigger.
How: The student writes down the three words AND, BUT and THEREFORE on a sheet of paper with open space for a sentence in between each word. The seminar teacher provides information about what characterizes the sentences, and gives relevant examples:
- The first sentence gives an introduction to the main topic.
- AND the second sentence points to the edge of knowledge and gives a more detailed description of the relevant topic.
- BUT the third sentence points to an unsolved problem, a lack of knowledge or something to be clarified.
- THEREFORE, the fourth sentence explains how the researcher has approached the problem, what the solution is, and what is the way forward.
The four sentences do not have to start with the suggested words. You can also try "however", "on the other side", "despite" or "nonetheless" as the beginning of the third sentence, and see how it affects the writing and the thought process.
Set the timer to 10 minutes for the students write a draft of the four sentences, and then ask students to discuss in pairs or in small groups.
- Use the ABT-model to write structured summaries of published research or to extract the essence of syllabus literature.
- The four sentences can serve as the first half of a scientific abstract.
- The four sentences can also function as an "elevator pitch" or the opening of an engaging lecture.
"CARS" – Creating A Research Space
What: A model developed by John Swales (1990) to describe the rhetorical elements in the introduction to a research article.
When: For students who needs to write the introduction of a research paper.
How: John Swales' model is based on analysis of the literature, and consists of three sequential moves in the introduction:
- Establish the territory (broad context and the research field).
- Identify a niche (a problem, a knowledge gap or a disagreement in the field).
- Occupy the niche (methods, strategy, or approach to the issue).
For a more comprehensive description, see:
- Swales, John M. Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings (1990)
- Swales, John M. and Christine B. Feak. Academic Writing for Graduate Students (2008)
- Schimel, Joshua. Writing Science. (2012)