Integrating Scientific Argumentation to Improve Undergraduate Writing and Learning in a Global Environmental Change Course

Thien-Kim Trenbath, Bess Koffman, Karl Kreutz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus Citations


We present a strategy for using scientific argumentation in an early undergraduate laboratory course to teach disciplinary writing practices and to promote critical thinking, knowledge transformation, and understanding of the scientific method. The approach combines targeted writing instruction; data analysis and interpretation; formulation of a hypothesis; and construction of an argument. Students submit and receive feedback on two drafts of two different argumentation essays, providing the opportunity for guided practice. Each written argument is intended to draw on several weeks’ course material, including short lectures, discussions, readings, and problem sets. Thus our aim with these writing assignments is to help students synthesize content and concepts, deepening their learning. We have found that this inquiry-based approach to writing engages students in course material, and significantly improves both writing and learning. We observed the greatest improvement among students with the lowest initial scores, suggesting that lower-achieving students benefitted disproportionately from this approach. Students have responded positively to the use of writing in the course, many stating on course evaluations that this is the first time they have received instruction in scientific writing. They have also pointed to a greater ‘‘big-picture’’ understanding of the course gained through writing. We describe the course and our curriculum, and provide suggestions for implementation as well as rubrics used to evaluate problem sets and student argumentation essays.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)231-239
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Geoscience Education
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 National Association of Geoscience Teachers.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5500-69049


  • argumentation
  • inquiry-based
  • learning
  • undergraduate education
  • writing


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