2. Using discussion to develop understanding

Talking about a problem is a good way to organise your thoughts and ideas. In Activity 2 you will provide your students with the opportunity to discuss the answers to a set of questions with each other. Listening to their conversations will give you insights into their thinking and help you to work out how best to support them. It will also provide an opportunity for the students who understand the topic quite well to help those that don’t. You should think about how to divide the class up. Will you let them work with their friends or will you organise the class so that they work with different people in mixed ability groups? Activity 2 is designed to help your students understand the particle model for matter. You can also begin to get them to make the link between the properties of the material and the forces between the particles. The case study describes a different way of organising the same activity. In both cases the aim is to promote discussion.

Case study 2: Organising a ‘card sort’

At a teacher education seminar, teachers worked together to plan practical, hands-on physics lessons that would help their students to understand the properties of materials. One of the student teachers, Mr Onsla, wrote cards with statements about particles (Resource 4). He then brought carton boxes into the classroom. He divided the class into groups of five, and asked each group to pick three boxes and to label each for the states of matter. On the side of each box the group then drew a diagram to show how the particles are arranged. Each student had three cards which they had to place in the correct box. The students had to explain why they placed a certain item in the specific box and the others could ask questions. The teacher noted that there were a lot of discussions among the students as they tried to make decisions.

Activity 2: Think-pair-share

Write the statements in Resource 4 on the board and then follow the steps suggested. (Each statement should be numbered for ease of discussion at the end).

  • Students should work on their own to match the number to solid, liquid or gas.
  • Students compare their answers with a friend and make sure that they agree.
  • Each pair shares their answers with another pair and they discuss the answers until they all agree.
  • The groups of four compare their answers with another group and discuss until they agree.
  • Finally, ask one representative from each group of eight to report on their answers. Wait for the students to point out any errors – don’t do it yourself!

You can use this idea of think–pair–share with lots of different topics in science. It gives the students the opportunity to think for themselves, and it is a safe environment for them to make mistakes. They have to be able to justify their answers and students often find it easier to talk about their ideas than write them down. Talking also helps them to understand, and shows you what is going on in their mind.

1. Exploring students’ prior knowledge

3. Encouraging writing