Make Writing More Motivating for STEM Thinkers
Make Writing More Motivating for STEM Thinkers
PUBLISHED: Wednesday, April 11, 2018 by Megan Barnhard

If you can help your learners view writing as an experimental process, similar to scientific investigation, it reduces the stress many students experience around writing. Here are three steps to take to make writing more motivating for STEM thinkers, and to invite them to develop their writing skills.

Step 1: Help Learners Understand That Writing Is a Process

 The steps of the writing process:

  1. Gather ideas/brainstorm.
  2. Organize ideas/outline.
  3. Draft.
  4. Revise.
  5. Edit.
  6. Publish.

These steps actually parallel some of the steps of the design thinking process used by engineers: define, ideate, prototype, and test. In both cases, learners are gathering the information they need to create a “draft” and then assessing that draft to see how well it achieves its purpose.

Help students think about rough drafts as prototypes of their ideas. This creates space for exploration. Just like design thinking and the scientific process, the writing process doesn’t happen in a straight line. Let students know that it’s completely normal to reiterate and return to an earlier stage of the process.

It’s not necessary to take every piece of writing through to a final draft. It can be far more impactful to allow students to build the skills of brainstorming, outlining, and finishing rough drafts, especially if your students tend toward perfectionism.

Step 2: Connect Writing to Projects

Use writing as a tool for students to keep track of their ideas in a design thinking or problem-based learning (PBL) unit. Learners can use writing to formulate problem statements or hypotheses. They can also employ writing in summarizing research, in ideating, and in describing the results of prototype testing. Make writing the tool, rather than the focus.

Modify the length and depth of writing tasks for your learners’ needs and for the project in question. Small but engaging writing experiences are far more valuable than big writing projects that hold no interest for students.

Step 3: Use Scaffolding

Students have to call upon many skills when they write, from holding ideas in active memory, to the correct application of grammar and style rules. When you provide scaffolding, your learners can focus on one aspect at a time and avoid feeling overwhelmed. Try scaffolding with . . .

  • sentence frames,
  • outline templates, or
  • word lists.

Sentence frames are especially powerful for STEM-centered learners. Instead of trying to hold an idea in mind and create syntax at the same time, students fill in the blanks of an already-constructed sentence. Help students see the parallel between sentence frames and the formulas or equations they use in science or math. The frame provides a reliable way to achieve the desired result; students just need to fill in the content appropriate to the situation.

For more support with making writing engaging for your STEM-centered learners, check out Could You Live Underwater? A Design Thinking and STEM Curriculum Unit for Curious Learners. Writing is integrated into this PBL curriculum in various ways, from journaling, to research writing, to keeping a classroom blog. 


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