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Eliciting misconceptions: writing definitions

Writing a definition of something allows you to elicit what the children really understand about a concept. This, of course, can be completed as a spoken definition also.

In ‘Active Assessment’, Stuart Naylor and Brenda Keogh suggest that definitions should ideally be as concise as possible and where possible include keywords from the topic. For example you might ask the children in your class to write a definition of a solid.

One common misconception which may arise is that “solids are heavy and hard”. The pupil may then add, “I know that a magnet is a solid because it is very hard, you can’t squash it. Also it is heavy and solids are heavier than other things”.


For this activity, we’d like you to come up with your own definitions for: solid, liquid and gas.

Put your immediate thoughts into the comments below, then read other contributions. Reply to your own post to say how you might change your definition based on what others have written.

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This article is from the free online course:

Teaching Primary Science: Chemistry

National STEM Learning Centre