Reading, evaluating and reflecting on scientific articles helps unlock students’ experimental design skills 

A person discovering a key in a book

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Scientific inquiry is a key part of developing scientific literacy which, in turn, unlocks experimental design skills

Scientific literacy is an important skill for students, even those who do not go on to further study. It enables students to participate in, and understand, public issues related to science, health and the environment.

Scientific inquiry is a key part of scientific literacy. It involves knowing the procedures and concepts necessary to design investigations. For example, forming hypotheses and research questions, understanding the significance of control variables and presenting data are important for good experimental designs.

However, literacy and inquiry are often difficult to develop. This is partly because reading science is rarely part of science lessons because teachers may not think it is beneficial to learning about a concrete aspect of the curriculum.

In a new study, researchers from Taiwan have demonstrated how reading, evaluating and reflecting on scientific articles positively impacts students’ scientific literacy. In particular, the students who participated in these activities became better at experimental design.

Teaching tips

  • You could use the alternative approach from the study to improve your students’ experimental design without having to carry out a practical experiment.
  • The activities that the researchers used throughout the study are freely available and you could use these in your teaching or to spark ideas for other activities.

Reflective reading

To investigate how reading can be used effectively, the research team divided 134 10th graders from four high schools in Taiwan into two experimental groups and a control group. The participants received instruction and were involved in group work for two hours a week over a period of six weeks.

After reading and discussing chemistry articles on topics such as air pollution, both experimental groups planned their own experiments. One of the experimental groups reviewed their peers’ experimental designs – an exercise known as evaluative reflection. The other experimental group had to concentrate on the importance of variables in their experiment designs, instead of evaluative reflection. The control group focused on how to read and understand the articles with no emphasis on scientific inquiry.

All groups were given a pre- and post-test to assess changes in their scientific inquiry skills. The tests assessed students’ abilities to form sound research questions and then design an experiment for their question.

In comparing the groups, the researchers found that engaging in evaluative reflection can increase students’ performance in scientific inquiry tasks. Moreover, those students with a greater ability to reflect performed better in experimental design tasks.

Fraser Scott


Y-J Tseng et al, Chem Educ. Res. Pract., 2022, DOI: D1RP00246E