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The American Psychological Association expects graduating psychology majors to be able to read and summarize complex ideas accurately, and to communicate effectively as writers. However, undergraduates often have little explicit instruction and practice in reading and summarizing academic articles, or in psychology-specific writing practices. Consequently, students’ skills as academic readers and writers often fail to meet expectations. In our large public university, writing problems were prevalent in our biological psychology classes. When asked to read and summarize primary sources, students reported that the articles were very difficult to understand, papers commonly included plagiarism, and many students withdrew from the classes. To counteract this, the instructor––first author (JG-F) consulted with an English for Academic Purposes specialist (CD-F) and we created a scaffolded series of homework assignments to help students learn how to read and summarize primary source articles. Students received guided instruction about where to find information in an article and how to take notes using their own words. To help manage the instructor’s time, she spent class time going over common errors and modeling ways to paraphrase and avoid plagiarism. A mastery approach to the homework assignments was fostered by grading several assignments on a complete/incomplete basis. Students who received the intervention had higher writing assignment grades, were more likely to persist in the classes, and were less likely to fail than those who did not receive the intervention. Most students felt that the intervention improved their ability to read and to use primary sources in their writing assignments, and thought that these skills would be transferrable to other courses.


This work was originally posted on the Society for the Teaching of Psychology website: and published in "Integrating writing into the college classroom: Strategies for promoting student skills," edited by T.L. Kuther.

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