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Reading Journal Articles



Psyched for Research


Lesson 2:
Reading Journal Articles and Creating Notecards


Activity Description/Rationale                                                       

Before students can create their own aerodynamics experiment, they should be assigned background reading, much like they would do for any research study. The instructor should first encourage students to, while keeping basic knowledge of aerodynamics in mind, think about a particular aspect of paper airplanes that they find interesting. For example, if students are specifically interested in variables that affect the flight duration of a paper airplane, they should then be encouraged to search for articles that study such variables. This activity is meant to begin familiarizing students with search engines and databases used so often in the experimentation process.


NYS Standards: Content Knowledge & Inquiry, Analysis, and Design

In the preceding aerodynamics lesson, students will be introduced to basic physics concepts as they relate to aerodynamics (including some Greek origin where appropriate). Additionally, students will learn basic methods of scientific inquiry. Specifically, students should collaborate with upper classmen to learn the advantages and disadvantages of various journal databases, and which journals may be appropriate for their topics. At this point, students should also be encouraged to consult with the school librarian, as he/she may be a vital resource for this lesson.


Common Core Learning Standards

Common Core reading and writing standards will be addressed, as students are expected to locate, read, analyze, break down, and understand scientific journal articles as they relate to their projects. They are expected to locate a number of articles that they can link together to form a coherent APA-formatted review of a scientific topic that can later be used to assist them in analyzing and writing results of their independent projects.


Common Core speaking, listening, and language standards will be thoroughly tested throughout this activity, as students will be required to partake in general class discussions, as well as present their individual background research, methods, and results of their aerodynamics/paper airplane project. Students will use feedback they receive from their peers and mentors to continuously improve their presentation and writing skills.


Goals: Process Skills (Basic & Integrated) and Attitudes/ (Enduring Understandings & Essential Questions)

Students will conduct basic methodology and scientific inquiry as it pertains to journal database background searches. Students will learn how to break down a scientific journal article. Students will develop a sense of critical thinking and questioning required for successful scientific inquiry.


Universal Design for Learning/Differentiation

Students will be instructed to think about what kind of project they can design from the beginning of the course, knowing that at some point they will have to write a research proposal that will be critiqued and hopefully approved. For this project, students will hand in small portions of their final APA-formatted paper throughout the course, such that they will continuously receive feedback on their progress. Students will also assist each other using peer review methods and constructive criticism. The general knowledge they gather over the course of this ARM will allow them to develop this independent project in any number of areas that may be of interest to them. If available, students will be paired with a mentor that is an expert in the field they have chosen. For instance, students may work with a college professor in their laboratory, conducting studies alongside graduate students.



Materials for this project are index cards, and access to either an abundance of print journals or electronic journal databases.


Estimated Length of Activity:

This activity should span approximately five 40-minute class periods. Instructors are also encouraged to meet individually with students to ensure that each student is obtaining appropriate journal articles for review.



It is often helpful to show students some of the available databases, or possibly visit the school library to review print journals. A lesson concerning the difference between “primary” and “secondary” sources, the sections of an article, and suggestions for which sections to concentrate on should be employed.


Activity Instructions:

A useful way to start this lesson is to discuss why we must review the literature before we begin an experiment. Has this topic already been studied? What were the findings? In essence, students will learn to “find the loophole” in the literature. Secondly, the instructor should discuss what kinds of sources are available to us (i.e. magazines, newspapers, websites, peer-reviewed journal articles, interviews, etc.) and whether they are primary or secondary. Finally, discussions on where to find such materials are important.


The instructor should then decide on a format for how they would like students to document the articles they read. We have found that notecards are very useful; students may choose to take notes in their lab notebooks, or design a useful method of taking notes on their computers. If you choose to use notecards, the following points should be encouraged:

-       Number and collate each notecard

-       List a notation on each one, such that you know what group each card belongs to should they become separated

-       Encourage students to list only one or two important ideas per notecard (i.e. teachers should emphasis that the entire article need not be summarized – only as it pertains to their intended topic)

-       Students should be encouraged to paraphrase the notes they take, such that they can simply copy their own words into the paper later on

-       Provide the APA-citation and date of access on each index card



A few assignments are given with this lesson. First, students are given a simple article to read (chosen by the instructor – click here for an example) and create notecards for. Teachers should check that each students’ notecards are properly prepared and immediately correct any problems. Secondly, we have found it to be very useful to assign a few students to each popular database resource available (i.e. Google Scholar, EBSCO, the library, Mendeley, NIH, PubMed, etc.), and have them summarize each, providing pros, cons, ways to access, and primary topics covered by each. A master sheet should then be prepared and distributed to each student as an invaluable resource.


Assessment and Reflection

Student progress will be monitored over the course of the ARM, as they should be required to continue creating and using notecards throughout. Their ability to create a cohesive paper later on will reflect their ease and frequency of using notecards.


Instructor’s Notes:

Students must be familiar with the internet and be taught how to search various search engines and scientific journal databases. Limited instruction on these topics will be available during class, and out-of-class tutoring should also be available. Students should also have access to computers in the school.


Click here to go back to the “Psyched for Research” Introduction page!