Suggested Activities

Report on Scientific Literature

For their midterm project, students participating in the research co-op program are to write a report based on 5-6 research articles in their chosen fields. The objectives of this assessment are to (1) help students develop scientific literacy skills, (2) immerse students in their topic of interest, and (3) select the most proficient and motivated students for lab-based (or field-based) research. The assignment guidelines and evaluation criteria have been provided below.

 For teachers:

As most of the students will have had limited exposure to scientific reading and writing, your guidance and support will be imperative to their success. It is recommended that you introduce the assignment at the beginning of the school year, at least two months before the first draft is due, and hold weekly Scientific Literature Review and Analysis sessions to acquaint students with reading and dissecting scientific papers. You should also set aside one classroom period to discuss scientific writing and citations.

For students:

Reading and integrating scientific literature is a critical skill for researchers in any scientific field. For your midterm project, you will be putting this skill to practice. 

Assignment Guidelines:

Your mentor has provided you with PDFs of some research articles relevant to his/her research project. Read the articles and write a report on the basic findings. Your report should include an introduction, a body, and a conclusion separated by headings.

 Introduction: Describe the field that you are studying, and explain why it is important. Provide the reader with the background information necessary to understanding the research articles. Maximum length is 500 words.

 Body: Thoroughly discuss the articles that you have been assigned. For each article, explain the authors’ objectives, experimental strategy, results, and interpretation of the results. You may separate your analysis of each paper with subheadings. Maximum length is 1200 words.

 Conclusion: Use this section to tie together the ideas presented in the different articles. You should also remind the reader why this topic is significant, and what questions have yet to be answered. Maximum length is 300 words.

 References: You should list all of your references in ACS format in the order in which they appear in the report, and ensure that they are numbered. In-text referencing is also required; you should place a superscripted number corresponding to the referenced work at the end of the sentence that draws upon that work.  Please include DOIs in your references.

ACS format for journal articles:

Print article:
Author, A. A; Author, B. B; Author, C. C. Title of Article. Journal Abbreviation (italics) Year (boldface), Volume (italics), Pagination.

Online article:
Author, A. A; Author, B. B; Author, C. C. Title of Article. Journal Abbreviation (italics) [Online] Year (boldface), Volume (italics), Pagination URL (date accessed).


Your report will be evaluated by your course instructor. You will receive a grade based on three criteria: understanding of the topic, accurate analysis of the papers, and clarity of writing.

Criteria Exceeds Expectations Meets Expectations Needs Improvement

Upon reading your report, the program facilitators will also determine your eligibility for lab-based (or field-based) research. 


Scientific Literature Review and Analysis

For their midterm projects, students participating in the research co-op program could be assigned to write a report based on 5-6 research articles in their chosen fields. However, most students will not have had previous exposure to scientific literature. The purpose of Scientific Literature Review and Analysis discussions is to engage students in primary literature.

For Mentors

Assign your students 5-6 research papers (not reviews) that are relevant within your field of research. Ideally, these papers will help your students understand the motivation for your project (or a project you can foresee them working on).  You may also recommend reviews, books, or websites that you feel would provide the students with background information about the field.

For Teachers

Divide your class into groups depending on their scientific fields of interest. Within each group of students, assign one of the papers selected by the mentors for the entire group to read and discuss in detail the next class. For each paper, you should ask the students the following questions.

  1. “What is the scientific question, and why is it important?”
  2. “What did scientists in this field already know before this paper was published?”
  3. Go through the tables and figures sequentially. “What does this figure tell us? Explain the experimental strategy (method), the data, and the interpretation."

Encourage participation by asking the students in each group to take turns answering the questions and presenting the figures to their peers. It is also helpful to display the paper and the figures on a large screen using a projector connected to a computer.

 For Students

You will be divided into groups based on your scientific interests. Every two week, you will be expected to read and discuss in detail a scientific paper assigned by your teacher. The papers will be selected from those assigned to you or your group members by your mentors, so the discussions will be helpful for your midterm projects. Please print each paper out and be prepared to answer the following questions:

  1. “What is the scientific question, and why is it important?”
  2. “What did scientists in this field already know before this paper was published?”
  3. Go through the tables and figures sequentially. “What does this figure tell us? Explain the experimental strategy (method), the data, and the interpretation."


Writing a Scientific Paper

By Daniel Muttiah, Secondary Teacher, Northview Heights SS, TDSB


Scientific papers are the means by which ideas of science are communicated, discussed, debated, and formalized. They are an important tool in the scientific enterprise of developing and expanding scientific knowledge. A scientific paper is essentially a journal article that focuses on any or all of the following:

  • Discusses new ideas
  • Expands on current ideas
  • Provides alternate ways of thinking
  • Presents new data collected through experimentation
  • Examines methods of analysis and process
  • Examines application of ideas in other branches of science
  • A review and a summary of a current area of scientific debate

In all of the above types of scientific papers good research, good analysis, and good writing are needed to produce a good scientific paper that is worthy of publication. The objective of this activity is to create a scientific paper for publication.


Research is what expands scientific thinking; therefore it forms the foundation of a scientific paper. Research can be focused on theory, experimentation, and review of scientific ideas. To begin the research process a scientific point of interest must be chosen and clearly defined. For the research to result in a scientific paper it must be original in nature, i.e. add in some way to scientific thinking. For example, research that leads to an article that describes the motion of the planets using Newtonian laws would not considered original research, but research that attempts to explain the formation of Saturn's rings using Newtonian laws would be considered original research. This is because the explanation of the motion of the planets using Newtonian laws is part of accepted scientific thinking, but the explanation for the formation of Saturn’s rings is still under scientific discussion.

Once a topic is chosen, scientific literature should be researched to ensure that it is original in nature. If the topic passes this test, then the research on the topic can be started. Clear documentation of research information throughout the research process is helpful in the analysis of the information and in the writing of the paper.


Good writing is an essential component of a scientific paper, and it should contain the following essential elements: an introduction, methods of research, results obtained, discussion of results, and a conclusion. Writing should be clear, concise, and logically organized. The paper should be formatted in a manner that helps the reader understand the thinking behind the article. The paper should also contain all sources of information, and indicate the contributions of individual and organizations.


Once the research is done and the article is written, it is now ready for publication. A variety of online and print journals such as the CYS (Canadian Young Scientist) Journal are available for the publication of scientific papers. These journals and publications allow for the sharing of information and discussion of ideas among peers and experts.

Publication in a journal usually requires some additional work. Many publishers will have writing elements and formatting requirement that need to be strictly followed. A careful check of the publisher's requirements should be followed by an editing of the paper to meet the publisher's requirements. Once this is done it can be submitted for publishing.

Best wishes on your contribution to the scientific world!

Critiquing a Scientific Paper

By Tigist Amdemichael, Science Curriculum Leader, TDSB

Scrutiny and criticism are an integral part of the scientific endeavour. The publishing of significant findings by scientists is just one of many steps in the inquiry cycle. However, many students can perceive publication of scientific ideas as the end of the cycle. This misconception is reinforced by classroom lab work routinely culminating in the form of a lab report. Yet, one of the key features of scientific work comes after publication. How the scientific community responds to claims made by scientists is a key feature of the nature of science. The science community examines science articles carefully for errors in procedure and errors in logic. This is an important communication skill for students to learn as it is a critical step in the inquiry process. How do we begin engaging students in the art of critiquing scientific articles?

First, we expose students to primary science literature in the form of the scientific journal. Sadly, many students do not encounter primary science literature in the course of their scientific studies. This is how the Canadian Young Scientist Journal comes in handy: a preliminary introduction can be made using an issue of the Canadian Young Scientist Journal. This journal provides papers at an appropriate level for secondary students. It is a journal written by students for students. In addition, the Canadian Young Scientist Journal publishes a review of each article conducted by an expert in their respective field. Thus, students are provided with an exemplar of what a scientific critique looks like. Eventually, students can progress to longer and more difficult articles found in other scientific journals.

One of the obstacles encountered in using scientific papers with students is their limited prior knowledge of such professional journals. Overcoming this barrier can be achieved using a scaffold approach. Starting with the familiar is a first step. Secondary sources of information - such as popular science magazines - are what most students know well. Comparing and contrasting articles from a scientific journal and a popular science magazine can highlight to students what makes a scientific journal distinct. As well, by way of this exercise, the benefits and drawbacks of each type of publication are discovered. With time, students may come to appreciate the level of depth that is found in primary scientific literature.

Once students are capable of recognizing how a scientific journal is conceptualized, the process of critiquing can begin. Modeling the process of deconstructing a journal for students is key to ensuring they will experience success with this task. Achieving this goal requires an article to be chosen either by the students and/or the teacher for review. Figure 1, provides a template that teachers and students can use when working with an article. Using a consistent format builds confidence and familiarity with the process for students.

Figure 1: Analyzing A Scientific Article

Does the author express a clear purpose for his/her scientific reasoning?

Statement of Problem:
State in your own words the question being pursued by the author?
How can you further subdivide the original question into smaller questions?

What assumptions has the author made?
Are these assumptions justifiable? Why or why not?

Are there errors in the procedure outlined by the author?
What changes, if any, would you make to the experimental design?

To what degree is the data collected accurate, clear, and relevant to the question under study?

To what degree does the data generated support the claim(s) being made?
What scientific theories and concepts support the reasoning?

What are the implications and consequences of this research?

Point of View:
What is the author's point of view?
How is the point of view expressed by the author scientific?
From what other points of view could the investigation be done?

After students have internalized the process of critiquing a journal, they can go ahead with smaller cooperative group activities, again using the respective journals. This learning structure encourages discussion and mirrors what scientists would do with scientific claims. Groups can be assigned different articles and through a jig-saw structure a whole issue maybe covered.

Alternatively, all groups can work on the same article and see the variety of critiques that are produced. Evaluation can take the form of a written submission of the critique of the article by each individual in the group, ensuring accountability.

Extension activities can include having students repeat the experiment and/or verify and test changes they propose. This can lead to publication of enhanced procedures or alternative results, subsequently furthering scientific dialogue. Teachers may also have students prepare lab reports as scientific journals for enrichment. As students gain more practice, their confidence and understanding of the scientific process grows. Journals can then be used regularly to reinforce scientific content learned in class or extend concepts. Using primary scientific literature is well worth the investment. It is an exciting way to bring current science into the classroom.

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