Yale Center for Teaching and Learning

Teaching Journal Articles

In many courses, undergraduates are required to read published empirical studies and to use and analyze the information provided in those articles. However, students frequently struggle to understand the methods and results sections, often relying on the introductory remarks, conclusions, and sometimes only the abstract to extract the critical pieces of information from the study. Teachers are left in a difficult situation: their students need to read journal articles, but do not know how. This module is designed to help teachers facilitate understanding of empirical studies for undergraduate students in both the natural and social sciences. For those of you who work with teaching fellows, we also include an agenda for teaching these skills to others and a workshop evaluation form.

This module will focus on the CREATE method (Consider, Read, Elucidate the hypotheses, Analyze and interpret the data, Think of the next Experiment, articulated by Hoskins et al. in 2007). Although originally designed to be used in a classroom setting and working with a single journal article over several meetings, CREATE can be adapted to fit several different class activities and outside-class assignments. First, the key components of the method will be described; then suggestions for using CREATE in class activities and assignments will be provided.

  1. Students begin by reading the introduction to the article. They are encouraged to Consider the relationships between the key concepts presented in the introduction. They often create a concept map of these ideas (i.e., a figure showing the relationship between the different ideas).
  2. Next, students move on to Read the methods and results sections, including all graphs and figures provided in those sections. In order to make sure that they understand what they are reading, students are instructed to (1) annotate and re-title figures to improve clarity; and (2) draw pictures of the methods (i.e., a cartoon) indicating how the study was actually conducted. A worksheet may be used to guide students in their review of the results.
  3. After they are clear on the methods used in the study, students Elucidate the hypotheses based on the results and write out the research questions above each figure or table.
  4. With questions/hypotheses established, students begin to Analyze and interpret the data. They compare results between groups (i.e., experimental and control) and draw conclusions based on the data. At this point, students read the authors’ discussion and evaluate their conclusions.
  5. Finally, students are encouraged to Think of the next Experiment, to think critically about the study and generate ideas about future research projects. This may include generating questions to email the author(s), or it may involve designing follow-up studies.

Teachers may use the CREATE method as a way of teaching a series of journal articles coming out of a single lab (as the creators of the method designed it). However, it may also be used in several other class activities and projects. For example, students might be given outside class assignments that relate to a part of CREATE (e.g., create a concept map, draw a cartoon of the methods and procedures), or they might be assigned to go through the entire process as a homework assignment. Similarly, CREATE may be used for group assignments. Different students groups may be assigned to go through the entire process for different articles. Alternatively, one class may go through the steps for one article only, with the class divided into groups and each group doing one piece (e.g., Consider, Read).