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Eliciting misconceptions: What’s going on?

To elicit whether children believe that cells go flat because the electricity runs out we can set up a ‘What’s going on?’ activity.

Set up a working simple circuit with a bulb, this is circuit 1.

Simple circuit with a bulb and battery, the bulb is lit

Ask them to think about what is going on, why the bulb is lit. Then ask them to change the cell to one that has gone flat. This is circuit 2.

Simple circuit with a bulb and battery, the bulb is not lit

What is going on now? Why isn’t the bulb lit up? Ask children to talk about these questions in small groups.

Talk is incredibly important in primary science and in science in general. Scientists communicate to develop their understanding, to investigate and evaluate concepts. Working in isolation could lead to scientists easily developing their own misconceptions or missing important developments.

In the classroom, talk allows children to share their ideas. It engages and motivates them. Exploratory talk helps children to question and develop investigative skills. It can also allow children to challenge misconceptions and to begin to answer the questions that challenge creates.

In this case, the talk allows group support for children to build on each other’s ideas in discussing difficult concepts.

As the children are talking, listen in to some of the conversations to see what the children are discussing and in particular why the circuit with the flat cell isn’t working. Ask the groups to come up with their agreement as to why circuit 2 doesn’t work and then to report back to the class. This could be through nominating a reporter to sum up the children’s ideas, or for the children to write down or draw diagrams of what is going on.


As well as setting up a practical What’s Going On?, you could also use photographs and videos. Explorify have lots of ideas for What’s Going On? activities. Have a look at the different ones available and tell us which one is your favourite below. How could you use that activity with a class?

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This article is from the free online course:

Teaching Primary Science: Physics

National STEM Learning Centre