Lesson and Workshops Introduction:

We have designed pre- and post-class activities (essentially ‘homework’ exercises for students) to complement the in-class lesson/workshop for this specific science writing-skill component (‘Grammar’).

At our institution, we ask students to complete the pre-class activities online as preparation for the in-class lesson/workshop, so as to give them some exposure to the concepts that will be explored in more detail in class.

The in-class activities are designed to improve students’ writing skills and to give them experience in working with partners/small groups on related activities. The in-class lesson/workshop has been designed to encourage an interactive, conversational approach to completing the activities; this should help students to resolve any confusion from the pre-class activities and discuss the importance of the writing skills they are learning to master with their peers and instructors. We provide student worksheets for the in-class activities, as well as TA and Instructor versions of these worksheets, which also include suggested solutions to the activities. We also provide a PowerPoint presentation to accompany the lesson/workshop, and a timing guide with teaching prompts to help instructors encourage students to get the most from these sessions.

Lastly, students are asked to complete the post-class activities online, as a final learning tool and wrap-up to help them solidify the concepts they have learned and gain some more practice in applying these to real writing situations.

A Note on Asking Students to Complete the Pre- and Post-Class Activities Online

We recommend asking students to complete the activities online so as to reduce the likelihood that worksheets of these activities are printed and enter the student domain; over time, these questions will reduce in value if copies are posted online (via blogs etc. by students who have previously completed them).

We have designed these activities to take students approximately 30-60 minutes to complete; they form a small part of the graded continuous assessment for students enrolled in a science communication course at our institution, but could also be deployed as not-for-credit activities.

Grammar: In-Class Activities, Instructor Timing Guide

This guide complements the final worksheets (and PowerPoint), but please have a look at these so you know when you should display certain slides.

Activity 1 (work together, 10 min + 5 min for instructor to show/discuss answers, total time elapsed = 15 min)

You should allow 10 minutes for students to complete Activity 1 before discussing the solutions with them for ~ 5 minutes.

Activity 2 (work together, 10 min + 5 min for instructor to discuss progress, total time elapsed = 30 min)

You should allow 10 minutes for students to complete Activity 2. You might want to walk around the classroom and talk to students, answering any questions they have. You could also encourage students to share any useful tips they discover for narrowing or broadening literature searches with their peers before moving on to the final activity.

Activity 3 (work alone and then together, 20 min, total time elapsed = 50 min)

You should allow 20 minutes (or however much time you have remaining) for students to complete Activity 3 before leading a brief wrap-up discussion. Note: You should move around the classroom and chat to students about some of the improvements they are making, as well as answering questions as they arise.

Grammar: Pre-Class Activities


Grammar can be loosely described as the set of structural rules that govern the composition of writing. Although it evolves over time, a core set of rules needs to be followed if you are to write clearly and correctly. This guide is not meant to provide a comprehensive list of these rules, but instead focuses on some of the more important ones to learn as well as those that students often find difficult.

Verb Tenses and Consistency

Verb tenses help tell people when something happened (or will happen). For example: “I study biology,” refers to the present (I am currently studying biology), whereas: “I studied biology,” refers to the past (as it implies that I no longer study biology).

There are six basic tenses that we use on a frequent basis, and these are highlighted below, with examples. Note: Consider how the implication of the sentences written for the Present Perfect and Simple Past differ based on the addition of one word (have).

  1. Simple Present: I study biology
  2. Present Perfect: I have studied biology for 12 years
  3. Simple Past: I studied biology for 12 years
  4. Past Perfect: I had studied biology
  5. Simple Future: I will study biology
  6. Future Perfect: I will have studied biology

Although it would be good for you to know the differences between these six basic tenses, and to be able to write simple sentences in each one, the most important thing is to be able to recognise when the tense shifts in your writing; this is not always a bad thing, but it can lead to confusion for your reader(s) and roll in to additional grammar issues. For that reason, you are advised to use the same tense within each sentence (and often within a complete paragraph).

For example, writing: “I have studied biology for 12 years, and I also study chemistry,” is confusing because a reader doesn’t know how long you have studied chemistry for (or whether this is important in the context of what you are writing). In that example, you would have mixed the present perfect tense with the simple present tense. Had you written everything in the present perfect tense (I have studied biology for 12 years, and I have also studied chemistry for seven) this potential confusion would have disappeared.

Question 1 (5 marks)

The five sentences below all feature potentially confusing shifts in tense. Try to rewrite them so as to make sure the tense does not shift. Hint: There is more than one way to do this for each sentence, but try to keep the text as similar as possible.

A: I was delighted with my grade on the grammar quiz because I study very hard.
B: I ask for further guidance about difficult rules as soon as the instructor finished her class.
C: Lots of people will make mistakes by the time they have mastered the concepts.
D: As educators, everyone hopes our writing skills quizzes would help students.
E: If we invested less time in creating them, we will have to lower our expectations of student writing progress.

Distinguishing the Primary Tense

It is usually helpful to distinguish which tense is the primary (main/chosen) one in a given piece of writing, and then only change this tense if and when you need to indicate a change in time frame.

When deciding, think how it would be most logical to convey the information you are going to write. For example, if you were writing the Methods section of a lab report or journal article, you should write everything in the simple past tense because it has already happened.

However, when you are telling a story, such as in a journalistic article, it might make sense to choose the simple present as the primary tense, but there will be points in the writing when you need to shift to the simple past tense to refer to something that has already happened, as in the example sentence below:

Zoologists stress that plastic litter, rather than sharks, is the real killer in the marine environment. Plastic waste entangles and poisons hundreds of dolphins and porpoises every year whereas sharks kill far fewer individuals. These shocking figures emerged from a recent study that involved specialists from four universities.

Question 2 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph below and decide which tense is the primary one for this piece of writing (1 mark). Then highlight the sentences in which the verbs and tenses do not agree (2 marks), before revising them to make sure they agree and follow the primary tense you initially selected (2 marks).

The screen flickered as pixels began to etch out a 3-D shape at the same time as data fed in from my experiment. Alongside the crystallography equipment, my lab mates peered excitedly at the monitor. I could not hide my delirium as I picture the future awards and publicity. I waited a few more seconds, rising from my seat, as even grander thoughts passed in and out of my mind. We worked for six months before the method even showed signs of success. Yet this proved once and for all that we were always on the right track.

Subject/Verb Agreement

There are many rules that govern how you should write the verb in a sentence, based on the subject of that sentence. The four below are the most common rules that you are likely to need to apply in your writing, and these are the rules that can be especially tough to master.

Tip: Remember that in general the subject comes at the start of a sentence, and it is this – and its relationship with the main verb, that is important, as in:

“Richard and I are excited to stop learning about grammar and go for lunch.”

1. Do not be distracted by anything that comes in between the subject and the main verb, as in:

  • My lab partner, with his many friends, takes up [NOT ‘take up’] a whole workbench.”
  • The many students, with my lab partner, take up [NOT ‘takes up’] a whole workbench.”

2. Collective nouns that imply more than one person/thing are still treated as singular subjects, as in:

  • The group discusses science topics [NOT ‘discuss’] during meetings.”
  • The Zoology Zebras Soccer Club practices [NOT ‘practice’] on Tuesdays and Saturdays.”

3. When your writing includes a compound subject joined by ‘or’ or ‘nor’, the verb should agree with the part of that subject that is closest to the verb, as in:

  • Neither Suzy nor her friends, Claire and Ash, want [NOT ‘wants’] to take the new class.”
  • Maeve or Gavin is [NOT ‘are’] going to write up the lab report.”

4. Words such as each, either, everyone, anybody, and somebody are all singular and therefore require a singular verb, as in:

  • Each of the eighteen solutions we made is [NOT ‘are’] suitable for this method.”
  • Everybody thinks [NOT ‘think’] they are on top of their revision until the hour before an exam.”

Question 3 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph below before re-writing the elements that include five subject/verb agreement errors.

Plants absorb nicotine from second-hand smoke, according to research conducted by a team of scientists in Germany. The team, which typically investigate the circumstances around chemicals appearing in food unexpectedly, were asked to find out why nicotine was found at high levels in several loose tea products. The team’s colleague, with his counterparts and their new software programs, want to explore how accurately nicotine take-up can be predicted. Mitchell thinks it will prove difficult to predict with any accuracy, but neither he nor his partners, Mei-Mei and Frank, wants to be proved right. Mei-Mei thinks nicotine take-up will differ greatly between plant species, but Frank thinks it will barely differ, seeing as gaseous exchange is basically the same in different plants. Either of these hypotheses are plausible. The scientists have so far only looked at peppermint plants, but have just taken in a shipment of other species for testing. The plants, with their unique preferred growing conditions, will require a lot of care before the cigarettes get anywhere near them!

Parallel Structure

Much like consistency in verb tense, consistency in the form of linked parts in a piece of writing is important for clarity and readability. By this, we mean that the verb endings and related phrases and clauses within a sentence should all follow the same pattern.

For example: “Scientific understanding is improved by researchers exploring new possibilities and communicating their findings,” is written in parallel form and sounds smooth when you hear it.

On the other hand: “Scientific understanding is improved by researchers exploring new possibilities and when their findings are communicated,” is not written in parallel form, and is consequently harder to interpret. This should be corrected by changing the red portion to “…communicating their findings.”

The rule of using the same parallel structure in your writing should be applied whether you are writing complete sentences, or listing things.

For example, in this guide we are hoping to help you: use the definite and indefinite articles appropriately, write your tenses consistently, check that your subjects and verbs align correctly, and ensure that the parallel structure of your writing reads smoothly.

Question 4 (5 marks)

Read the paragraph below and make five changes where they are required to make sure the sentences are all written in parallel form. Hint: Try to keep the stem of each sentence the same, and only change as little text as you need to. In some cases you will just need to delete words or re-arrange the text.

I have always enjoyed science classes, whether the science being discussed is biological, chemical, physics or astrological. I have always found the best instructors to be enthusiastic, attentive and they use new technology when lecturing. In the future, I hope to be creeping through the jungle, swimming in azure seas, and publish my ecosystem-saving research in the best journals. Hard work, determination and spending lots of time in the lab will be required if I am to reach my goal, though. The last experiment I performed didn’t find a solution but instead new questions were raised and whet my appetite for further research.

IMPORTANT: Before the In-Class Activities

Look at an old assignment or essay and bring this with you to the in-class activities. You will use your old piece of work to look for grammar issues.

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: Pre-Class Activities Solutions

Grammar: In-Class Activities

In these in-class activities you will gain more practice applying some of the most important grammar-based concepts to improve pieces of writing, before turning your attention to an important new concept: the correct use of the definite and indefinite articles. To conclude the activities you will look at an old piece of your own work with the aim of improving it by using the grammatical rules you have been learning.

Activity 1: Consistency in Verb Tenses, Subject/Verb Agreement and Parallel Structure (10 minutes, work together)

In the pre-class activities you read about the importance of maintaining the same tense in your writing to avoid confusing your readers. You also considered why it is important to make sure the subject and main verb of each sentence agree, and then learned about the need to write in parallel structure.

This first activity should act as a recap. Try to find as many grammar-based errors in the paragraph of writing below and then come up with correct/suitable alternatives.

Scientists in the US believe they have found only the third example of a cancer spread by cell-cell contact. They found that clams suffer from a type of leukaemia, which will generally kill infected individuals after a certain time. The research group initially predicted that the cancer was being spread virally, but genetic fingerprinting techniques instead point firmly at a cell-cell mode of action. The group believe that infected cells are transferred if clams will come into contact with one another, or when they are transported by chance by ocean currents. A strong current, with its many intricacies, are able to transport cells thousands of kilometres up the eastern seaboard. The scientists said that the hypotheses they are working on open up a whole host of new questions about how diseases may be spread across vast distances in the ocean, and the answers to these questions undoubtedly have implications for human health. Neither these scientists nor health professionals believes that the cancerous clams are a risk to humans, though. The affected species are often used in dishes popular with fans of seafood, Cajun cuisine, and in French restaurants. Before the scientific community accept the news that a third species of animal can catch cancer via cell-cell contact, a controlled lab-based experiment will need to show the disease transfer in such a way. Everybody in the team want to pursue such experiments as quickly as possible. The other two known examples of cell-cell cancer transmission occurs in Tasmanian devils and some species of dog. Tasmanian devils are wide-ranging, elusive and are icons in their native Australia.

Note that your instructor will spend a few minutes going over the solutions to this activity before you move on to the next activity.

Using the Definite and Indefinite Articles – The and A/An

You should use the definite article the to refer to something when you are referring to something specific (or definite). In contrast, you should use the indefinite articles a or an to refer to something non-specific (or indefinite).

The important thing to bear in mind is that a word on its own cannot be categorized as requiring the definite or indefinite article; instead, it is the way that you refer to that word that determines which article you should use.

One quick tip to see whether you require an article in your writing at all is to read the sentence without it and see if it means the same thing; if it does, then you can safely remove the article. For example: “Anteaters like the sunshine,” means the same thing when written as: “Anteaters like sunshine,” so you need not use the definite article in this case.

The Definite Article – The

Remember that you should use the when referring to something specific. For example, you can write: “I saw the solution in the lab,” if you are referring to a specific solution (perhaps there is only one in there, or you have just been talking about a specific solution). However, if you saw one of many that were in the lab, you should write: “I saw a solution in the lab.”

The Indefinite Articles - ‘A’ and ‘An’

Recall that you should use the indefinite articles, a or an, to refer to something non-specific. You should speak a word rather than read it to help you decide whether to use a or an: although there are some exceptions, you should generally use a when referring to a word that makes a consonant sound, and use an when referring to a word that makes a vowel sound.

For example, you should write: “A Bunsen burner…” or: “A thermometer…” because these words begin with consonants (and make consonant sounds when spoken).

However, you should write: “An oscillator…” or: “An amp-meter…” because these words begin with vowels and make vowel sounds when spoken).

The reason that it is helpful to speak words aloud when deciding whether to use a or an is because silent letters could otherwise confuse you when simply seeing them written.

For example, you should write: “Professor Hamilton scored a hat-trick,” (because the h in this word makes a consonant sound), but you should write: “The same player acted in an honourable way when passing up another goal due to an opposition player being injured,” (because the h in this word is silent, which means the o is the first letter you hear, and this o makes a vowel sound).

This same general rule applies when using acronyms in your writing, which is why you should write: “A NASA spacecraft is currently taking pictures of Mars,” but: “An EPA directive ensures that businesses attempt to reduce their carbon emissions.”

Activity 2 (10 minutes, work together)

First, work together to decide whether the definite or indefinite articles – or neither – should be used to fill in the blanks below:

___ peck-the-bug computer game designed for birds has helped to suggest why bugs may have evolved _____ amazing, colourful iridescence. ____ game, called DOTPECK, required ____ birds to track the movement of ____ bugs across a computer screen and peck at them in the belief that they were real items of prey. Each bird spent a quarter of ____ hour at the game, and performed significantly better when pecking at dull, non-shimmering bugs, as opposed to ____ iridescent, shimmering ones. The research was led by ____ UL-funded team in England, which is now keen to see whether birds perform similarly with live prey. The team acknowledged ____ heuristic quality of ____ DOTPECK game. Despite this, ____ exciting element of many to emerge from the results is that ____ bugs might have evolved iridescence because it helps them avoid predation.

Now spend some time correcting the errors in the following sentences. Note that there may be more than one error in each sentence.

  1. Please could you pass me a lab manual that is in my bag?
  2. I was reading it last night, before I heard a ominous sound in the hallway.
  3. I have a horrible feeling my apartment is haunted by the ghost from a previous age.
  4. I know that sounds crazy but I’m a honest believer in the supernatural.
  5. Never mind, let’s get on with a quiz we have to complete before the class ends.
  6. At least red lipstick on my mirror doesn’t spell out ‘RedRum’, but ‘Remember, Chemistry 201 Exam, May 20!’

Note that your instructor will spend a few minutes going over the solutions to this activity before you move on to the final activity.

Activity 3 (20 minutes, work alone and then together)

You should take out the old essay or piece of writing that you were asked to bring to class (this was mentioned in the pre-class activities).

Read over this piece of work and look for any of the four main grammar-based errors that are particularly common, and which you have learned about so far (inconsistent and confusing shifts in verb tense, subject/verb non-agreement, non-parallel form of elements in sentences, and unsuitable use or non-use of the definite and indefinite articles).

Try to make edits to your work to improve it. If you finish early, work with a partner to look over each other’s work and see whether you can spot any errors they may have missed. This will give you practice of the peer review process as well as applying grammar-based rules to improve your own work.

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: In-Class Activities Solutions

Grammar: Post-Class Activities

In these post-class activities you will gain further practice applying some of the most important grammar-based concepts to improve pieces of writing, before demonstrating your ability in these concepts by writing two/three paragraphs to showcase your skills.

Controlling Shifts in Tense

You should remember the importance of establishing a primary tense in any piece of writing and then trying to make sure you do not shift to other tenses more frequently than you need to. However, there are occasions when you need to shift to other tenses when there is a change in time frame from one element of a sentence to another. In most cases you should revert to writing in the same tense that you are using as the primary one in your piece of writing as soon as you have dealt with the necessary change in time frame.

Question 1 (8 marks)

Read the five sentences below and first decide whether the shift in tense in each is necessary or not (1 mark each). In all cases, assume the primary tense has already been established, and that it is indicated by the first verb, which appears in blue.

Then, for the sentences that feature unnecessary shifts in tense, provide a re-written version that reverts to the primary tense indicated by the blue verb (1 mark each).

A: Our instructors indicated the solutions before the students question their graded homework.

B: Before they absorbed the information, many had decided they were treated unfairly.

C: The Physics Society (PS) is voting in a new chairperson because the former representative proved to be unreliable.

D: The last incumbent wanted to establish a new working group but the majority of members feel differently.

E: Someone from the PS needs to liaise with the affected students and instructors soon as both groups will want to conclude the matter as soon as possible, with an upcoming investigation on the cards.

The Definite and Indefinite Articles

Remember from the in-class activities that you should use the definite article the to refer to something when you are referring to something specific (or definite). In contrast, you should use the indefinite articles a or an to refer to something non-specific (or indefinite). Also recall that you should not use an article at all if its omission from a sentence makes no difference to the meaning.

Also remember the handy hint that you should speak a word before deciding whether to use a or an when an indefinite article is required. It is the sound – not the letter – that is important, with consonant sounds requiring a and vowel sounds requiring an. This is why you should refer to “a hippo” in your writing, but if this hippo was particularly honourable, you should refer to him as “an honourable hippo.”

Question 2 (4 marks)

Read the four sentences below, in which the definite/indefinite articles are highlighted in red. For each sentence, you must state whether the use is appropriate, and briefly justify why/why not (1 mark each).

A: My friend worked for the NASA for just over four years.

B: He wanted to board the space shuttle while it was on the ground and inactive.

C: He now works as an astrophysicist at a university in Ireland.

D: He has, however, applied to fly to Mars as part of an historic mission that aims to take people there by 2025.

Putting It All Together

Question 3 (8 marks)

To conclude this set of post-class activities, you will need to demonstrate your skills applying the basic rules of grammar you have learned to a short piece of your own writing. You will need to pay attention to: (1) the tense you use, shifting it only when necessary; (2) making sure your subjects and verbs agree; (3) writing in parallel form, and (4) using the definite and indefinite articles appropriately.

To do this, you must write a short piece on any topic of science that you are interested in. This does not need to be long (200 words is fine) as long as you do the following:

  1. Choose a primary tense and state this before you begin your writing
  2. Include at least one sentence that incorporates a necessary shift in tense
  3. Include at least one list of examples to indicate your skills in writing in parallel form

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for the suggested solutions password protected page for: Post-Class Activities Solutions

Grammar In-Class PowerPoint

Timing Guide

Pre-Class Activities

In-Class Activities

Grammar Post-Class Activities

The suggested solutions of these activities require a password for access. We encourage interested instructors to contact Dr. Jackie Stewart and the ScWRL team to obtain access. Please fill out the Access Request and Feedback Form to inquire about resources you are interested in.

Click here for suggested solutions password protected page for: Pre-class activity, Post-class activity, and In-class activity solutions