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Teaching and learning tricky topics
Teaching and learning tricky topics

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Structuring to capture students’ thoughts

Students are most likely to provide their own thoughts, views and potential (mis)understandings if they are engaged in an activity which will stretch their understanding of difficult concepts. Your questions should then tease out students’ thoughts while they are busy with the activity.

For example, the following table (Table 1) of items was made into a set of cards by science teachers and given to secondary school children to establish (mis)understandings about living things. The students were asked to group the cards into living and non-living and then asked to explain why they have grouped the cards in that way.

Table 1 Alive or not cards
firewater treewood
eggbabymonkeyworm
flowercactuswindnut
meerkatjellyfishbeeelephant

It is important to emphasise before the task that this is not a test and that you are only interested in what they think. The students should be prompted where necessary with non-leading questions such as, ‘That’s interesting – can you say why?’ and ‘You said … that’s interesting, can you say more?’