Research School Network: Create, Capitalise, Cultivate: Dialogue in Primary Science Encouraging Pupils to Explain their Thinking


Create, Capitalise, Cultivate: Dialogue in Primary Science

Encouraging Pupils to Explain their Thinking

by Bradford Research School
on the

Rebecca Wardell is Assistant Headteacher at Beckfoot Allerton School in Bradford

Recommendation two of the new EEF Improving Primary Science guidance report is to encourage pupils to explain their thinking’. Dialogue in science gives pupils the opportunity to link new content with current knowledge, to organise and justify their thinking and use new vocabulary.To foster effective dialogue, we should:

a collaborative learning environment
on the power of dialogue
reasoning and justification

What do these look like in practice?

Creating a collaborative learning environment.

The guidance report identifies that well structured collaborative learning approaches, such as paired or small group work, offer a great opportunity for discussion during which pupils can make their thinking explicit.’ And that collaborative approaches paired with well-designed tasks that integrate talk demonstrate the greatest impact’.

However, it is important that a collaborative learning environment is established in the classroom to ensure that talk is effective and that it is structured to ensure that children are focused on the topic in hand and use talk to foster understanding. 

The primary guidance report identifies three ways of supporting children’s talk:

  • development of talk behaviours
  • setting expectations of talk 
  • thinking about how task design encourages collaboration.

Talk tasks’ are effective ways of planning to ensure that children engage in dialogue to explain their thinking, during every science lesson.

In this example taken from a Year 3forces and magnets’ unit, the teacher models the Talk task’ using the sentence stems and key words provided. Children then engage in the talk task themselves.

RW1 Science

By structuring the task this way, the children know the expectations of the talk task and the talk behaviours that they need to demonstrate in their role as partner a or b. They are also provided with scaffolds such as sentence stems and key words. This demonstrates how the task can be designed to encourage the children to use key vocabulary to explain their thinking, whilst supporting all children to be successful at the task.

Capitalise on the power of dialogue

The guidance report also identifies that when planned and structured, pupil talk gives the opportunity for pupils to integrate new ideas with current knowledge, identify gaps in their assessment and reorganise their thoughts to consolidate learning’.

It recommends that teachers:

  • Plan key questions and discussion points in advance
  • Use strategic follow up questions to guide dialogue
  • Balance teacher and pupil voice

In this Year 5 changing materials topic, planned questions enable the pupils to explain (which material would be left in the sieve at the end?) and reason (Why do you think that?). The pupils are also provided with star words to support their talk to scaffold pupil answers.

RW2 Science

Cultivate reasoning and justification.

The third strategy suggests that pupils should be encouraged to give justification for their ideas using the model:

– Pupils explain their thinking through discussions with their peers in pairs or small groups
- Pupils then share their ideas with the whole class, facilitated by the class teacher
– Pupils are given the opportunity to review and update their ideas after the discussion.

Strategies to implement the explain, discuss and re-explain model, include odd one out’ activities and concept cartoons’.

In this Year 4 example, pupils are asked to explain which animal is the odd one out. As there is no correct answer, pupils are given the opportunity to justify their decision (e.g. the mouse is the odd one out because it is has fur/​the snake is the odd one out because it has no legs). After hearing other ideas from the class, pupils have the chance to review or update their ideas.

RW3 Science

In this Year 1 example from a materials unit, pupils are given a concept cartoon. Concept cartoons are often used to address common misconceptions, prompt discussion and give pupils opportunity to justify whether they agree or disagree with the cartoon.

RW4 Science

In this example, the teddy has designed a house with a lace roof, wooden windows and glass walls. Pupils have to decide whether they agree or disagree with the design choices and justify their decision. Again, the teacher can follow the explain – discuss – re-explain model to guide the task.

Overall, encouraging pupils to explain their thinking allows pupils to use new vocabulary and practice using vocabulary, link new knowledge to existing knowledge and reason and justify their thinking. However, it is essential that teachers plan to set expectations for pupil talk as well as plan effective questions and tasks in order for pupil talk to be as effective as possible.

More from the Bradford Research School

Show all news

This website collects a number of cookies from its users for improving your overall experience of the site.Read more