A Before and After Close Paper Reading: Hydrogeology Edition

Students read an advanced paper at the beginning of a course and compile a list of terms they do not understand. As the course progresses, the instructor defines these terms. At the end of the course, students re-read the initial paper to gain an appreciation of how much they have learned.

Introduction: This activity takes place in an advanced applied hydrogeology course, although it is widely applicable to any course. The activity begins on the first day of class, when students independently read an advanced paper and identify terms they cannot confidently define. Then, collectively, the class compiles a list of poorly understood words. Throughout the semester, the instructor defines the terms in relation to the course material. At the end of the semester, the class re-reads the initial article to demonstrate how much they have learned.


  • As an instructor, gauge each student’s background understanding of material coming into the course
  • Foster discussion and collaboration amongst students by generating a combined list of poorly understood terms
  • Ensure all students have basic fundamental understanding of course material as terms are defined
  • Demonstrate learning to the students at the end of the semester

Procedure - Before Class: After choosing an appropriate paper (see materials), the instructor distributes the paper to the class. She then explains to the students her goals for the assignment. Next, she gives them time to read the article and compile a list of terms they cannot confidently define to a friend. Alternatively, the reading and initial word list can be completed outside of class.

Procedure - During Class: The students form small groups and compare the list of terms they each individually generated. Then, the class comes back together to make one master list of terms. This is often a lively discussion.

This list is then revisited throughout the semester and terms are checked off after they have been defined. The instructor makes a point to emphasize when she is defining a term from the list. This list helps guides students on what are key topics and vocabulary to know. It also provides them with a metric to measure their understanding and progress during the semester.

Procedure - After Class: At the end of the course, the students revisit the original article. Now, they know all of the terms that they once could not define. This gives students confidence in the material and provides them with evidence of learning. A group discussion is held to summarize the activity.

Materials: The most important material is the selected paper. The paper should be relevant to the course material, contain most of the key vocabulary terms of the subject area, address core methods of the subject area, and be of general interest to students. At the start of the semester the instructor went through the syllabus with the selected paper to make sure she covered all of the key terms. If needed, the syllabus or paper can be adjusted.