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Ideas to promote classroom talk

It may be that your students need ‘skilling up’ so that they participate better in group discussions.

There can be a number of reasons why a class finds group discussion difficult. It may help if you reorganise the class into new groups, thinking carefully about the composition of each group so that shy students have supportive peers to make them feel comfortable, students who tend to dominate conversations are placed with peers who will also put forward their ideas.

To help get these new groups functioning, there are a number of approaches suggested in the 2004 Department for Education and Skills ‘Group Work unit’. These approaches will help train your new groups to function better and this will hopefully lead to better discussion during science activities.

Download the study unit [PDF] and read the pages numbered 15-22 (PDF document pages 17-24). The videos in the study unit can be found here.

Decide on an approach, and work out how to use it to prompt group discussion about one of the formative questions below. Select a question that you feel will be challenging for your class, as it is these that are likely to promote discussion and provide you with a better understanding of what students think.

If you decide to contribute to the discussion at the end of this step, make sure to be specific about any question you have considered, and the context of the group discussion you have planned.


Formative questions

  1. What happens to sugar when you add it to water?
  2. Which is the odd-one-out in acorn, coconut, strawberry and potato?
  3. What is similar and what is different about respiration and photosynthesis?
  4. Is it always true that metals are dense materials?
  5. What is friction like on the moon?
  6. There are 7 characteristics of living organisms, but are some of these more important than others?
  7. What is similar and different about a compound and a mixture?
  8. If there are 24 people in the room and everyone in the room shakes hands, how many handshakes is that?
  9. If you have only 5p and 7p stamps, what postage can you put on an envelope up to £2? Which amounts of postage, up to £2, can you not do with just 5p and 7p stamps?

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This article is from the free online course:

Assessment for Learning in STEM Teaching

National STEM Learning Centre

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