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This content is taken from the National STEM Learning Centre's online course, Managing the Practical Classroom in Secondary School Science. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 secondsSo when you're managing a practical, you will end up invariably with some gaps because experiments don't just happen like that. It takes time. So it's often worthwhile having a little bit of an introduction and organising the collection of equipment, setting up of equipment, and saving more of the theory for the one of those gaps where they're waiting. So maybe a first gap once they've set something up, for example in an osmosis practical, it's once they've set up the first part of the experiment that you then start to talk about the theory of osmosis and what's happening with the movement of water in and out of the cells.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 secondsAnd as they're waiting if you've then got a bit more time, it's getting results tables together, planning out what goes on in each column, what units to use. What are you recording? Are you going to need to do a calculation on that? So it's worthwhile then using those spaces in time to organise how they're going to collate the information so that they can then use those when they've got a results-- set of results to note those results straight down in a results table.

Practical plan

We have covered a lot of considerations about teaching science with practical work in the course. However, planning practical work doesn’t have to be an onerous task. Having a focus to your practical work, a clear learning outcome, will help shape the lesson and guide the learning. For this section we want you to think about the ‘who, where, why and how’ for practical lessons.

Who: your students

What is the background and what are the learning needs of your class? Do you have a top set, what skills are they good at, and which need developing? When is the lesson, and does this impact on how these students interact?

Where: your laboratory

What room are you in and what resources are available to you? Think back to the classroom laboratory tour showing different layouts, and the benefits and issues discussed earlier in the course. How might the equipment be located for students?

Why: the intended learning

What is the main outcome of your lesson and what do you want the students to achieve? What is the justification of this?

How: the structure

How will you structure the practical work, and the lesson as a whole? Will students work independently or in groups, and will you be using a demonstration? How will you link the practical work with contexts and theory?

In the video above, Nadia introduces the idea of thinking about where the practical work is timed in a lesson. This is particularly relevant where you have long practicals, for example certain enzyme experiments in biology, and adds another dimension to your practical lesson plan.


Think about an upcoming practical lesson you will be undertaking and write a quick plan of the practical to help focus the lesson. Here’s an example from us:

Measuring extension of a spring (Hooke’s Law)

  • Who - Class 11X2 (aged 15-16 years old): Set 2, predicted grades 6-7, with two reaching 8. Good maths skills, but need to improve the justification of chosen method.
  • Where - Lab 4: Tables in groups of 4, with sink for each group. Students facing each other and not the board. 1 tray of equipment provided per group with no instructions.
  • Why - Justify the chosen method and the number of results recorded. This is because they are constantly taking 3 readings for 5 different values. Want to see if there is variety between groups and discussion of various methods to select the best one.
  • How - No demonstration or instructions. Students to commence practical at start of lesson, giving time for whole class discussion of different approaches at end.

Your full lesson plan will need other items, including resources, a risk assessment and how you will assess learning. However, you don’t need to post those here.

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This video is from the free online course:

Managing the Practical Classroom in Secondary School Science

National STEM Learning Centre