Teaching academic literacy using popular science texts


Adobe Stock Photo


Communication competencies rank high amongst the list of top 10 soft skills for successful learning and long-term career development in the 21st century workplace.  

Recognising the importance of cultivating strong communication skills in the early stages of students’ academic paths, more science degree programmes are offering science communication training as part of the core undergraduate curriculum.

Drawing on the Academic Literacies approach, which highlights that writing cannot be taught in a decontextualised manner apart from the overall knowledge acquisition process, the Faculty and the Centre for English Language Communication (CELC) co-developed a course – Exploring Science Communication through Popular Science – in 2013. This compulsory course for all NUS Science first-year undergraduates, which is integrated into the curriculum, aims to develop students’ science communication abilities.

Through critical reading of a selection of popular science texts, classroom discussion, summary and essay writing, and oral presentation activities, students develop foundational skills to effectively communicate science to diverse audiences and laymen. Students are trained to read professional science publications, and to articulate scientific arguments and perspectives coherently, in writing and orally.

A study jointly conducted by Prof WU Siew Mei, Director of CELC, and Ph.D. student LEE Sze Han under the guidance of Prof Eric CHAN, Department of Pharmacy, was published in September 2018 in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning journal, Teaching and Learning Inquiry.

The study investigates the effectiveness of the course in developing students’ academic literacy skills and the coherence in their writing. The results suggest that indicators of coherence, especially in the integration of source ideas and the logical progression of textual ideas, are correlated to improved learning outcomes. The study also identified that greater faculty involvement in the course, where content lecturers teach alongside language teachers in a collaborative approach, could improve the course’s outcomes. These findings provide a guide for subsequent actions in reviewing and reshaping the course to further enhance its effectiveness.

The majority of the study’s respondents agreed that the course activities helped them to become better communicators.

A student said, “The module was conducted in a way that allows me to understand how relevant it is to the popular science world. It also helps me to appreciate other disciplines and to make them more relatable to the lay audience.”



 Faculty cooperation in teaching academic literacy using popular science texts: A case study (TEACHING & LEARNING INQUIRY Volume: 6 Issue - Wu SM; Lee SH; Chan ECY)