Productive Discussions


As an elementary science teacher educator, I try to help my students (future teachers) develop science teaching practices that they can incorporate in their future classrooms regardless of the content they are teaching. One of the key practices I work on is how they can support productive discussions about scientific ideas with students of all ages.

Carolyn Colley and Mark Windschitl (2016) identified conditions present in classroom discourse that supported rigorous discussions about scientific ideas with elementary students. They define rigorous discussions as those which encourage students to make sense of ideas as a group and use observations and experiences to refine these ideas. This research found that combining discourse practices (e.g. open-ended questions, prompts to elaborate, connecting to a recent science activity, individual/small group discussions, and referring to representations) more effectively supported rigorous discussions than using these practices individually. The combination of an open-ended question, prompts to elaborate, and a connection to recent activity was found to be particularly useful.

Colley and Windschitl’s (2016) research suggests that teachers can set the support rigorous classroom discussions about scientific ideas by using a combination of discourse practices. Planning discussions in such a way so as to use these practices in combination can enable teachers to engage students in the important work of making sense of scientific ideas.

Questions to Consider:

  • Do teachers have the opportunity to receive professional development that focuses on the use of discourse practices in the classroom?

  • What opportunities do students have to engage in discussions about scientific ideas as part of their science lessons?

  • What opportunities do teachers have to work together to plan effective science lessons that incorporate rigorous discussions about scientific ideas?


Colley, C., & Windschitl, M. (2016). Rigor in elementary science students’ discourse: The role of responsiveness and supportive conditions for talk. Science Education, 100(6), 1009–1038. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.21243

Martha Canipe is an assistant professor of elementary science education at Northern Arizona University. Connect with Martha on Twitter, @martic73


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