How to Structure a Science Lesson for the Primary Classroom

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Structuring a science lesson for primary-age students is different from how you’d structure a spelling, reading or mathematics lesson. Science lessons need to be structured in a way that helps students think scientifically.

We can encourage scientific thinking through a solid science lesson structure – here’s how:

Activate Prior Knowledge

Find out what your students already know (their background knowledge) about the topic. Ask questions, show real-life examples, videos, news articles to help activate their interest and you can assess and modify the angle and pace of the lesson to:

  1. Avoid boredom
  2. Manage misconceptions
  3. Build connections

Avoid boredom

Understanding students’ background knowledge is crucial when structuring a science lesson, where learners in the same class could have a wide range of exposure to the topic.

If your students have mastered the science topic you’re giving a lesson on, they’re not going to be engaged. If they have no idea what you’re talking about, they’ll drift off.

Review what your learners know and build upon their natural curiosity. Even assess your own previous science lessons to see what you have already come across. Ask yourself: Is there a way to present the topic differently?

Manage misconceptions

Learn about what students assume of your lesson and the “facts” within. Sometimes, misconceptions can be a starting point for discussion and inquiry-based instruction before the structured lesson begins. You’ll want to gently close the lid on student misconceptions before they potentially derail your lesson.

Think about what students assume of your lesson and the facts within.

Build Connections

Part of learning science is like telling a story. Think about how you can incorporate previous knowledge into your lesson to build a story that matters to students and scaffold their learning.  Maybe throw in a few questions that were answered in previous lessons.

Prepare Resources and Materials

Many of the science concepts taught in primary grades are physical, so students need things to see and touch and play with! To engage students every step of the way, make sure you prepare materials in three important steps:

  1. An exciting intro
  2. A visual reference
  3. Hands-on learning

An exciting intro

Engage them from the first second, and you’ll have them for the whole hour.

Present your class with an idea, thought, question, or object that will grab their attention. Engage and guide the class to come up with a question they want answers to.

Use this to help them focus and then launch into your introduction.

A visual reference

Give your students something to refer to that isn’t you. If they get caught, stuck, need information or maybe inspiration, have a visible model or other visual available for your students for support.

Hands-on learning

If they can touch it, you’re onto a winner. Allowing students to experience through touch, sight, sound, feel (and smell but that’s up to you) will immerse them into the subject, lesson and solidify the takeaway learning.

Set Tasks (Independent or Group)

This is where the magic happens! Whether you set independent or group tasks, students need to know what’s expected of them, whether or not they’re on the right track, and to be challenged. Here’s what we’ve found works:

  1. Define outcomes
  2. Respond quickly
  3. Test understanding

Define outcomes

Let your students know what they should be doing and what you expect the result to be—the clearer the better! This helps them stay on task and helps you get an understanding of how they’re progressing.

Respond quickly

When a challenge arises, giving feedback— through realignment, support and guidance—is crucial to keep students motivated, engaged and learning in science lessons. You can course-correct their thinking, clear any further misconceptions, or open up questions and challenges to the rest of the class.

Test understanding

Feel free to ask students ‘why’ and ‘how’ more than once—. Your students might understand that leaves use sunlight, but perhaps not how. They might know how, but not when, and so on. Just like showing their ‘working out’ in a mathematics questions, challenging them to show their thinking will help them feel they’ve gained mastery of the subject.

Guide Instruction

There’s nothing wrong with a chalk-and-talk as long as it’s done as an active exercise. You’ll want your students to keep up, keep focused, and get prepared for their independent and group work. Here’s what we’ve found works:

  1. Understand your subject
  2. Set a good pace
  3. Provide clear instructions

Understand your subject

You don’t need to be a master, but you do need to have a good grasp on what you’re talking about (they’ll smell it if you don’t). If you’re rusty, there are plenty of great resources on the net to bring you up to speed.

Set a good pace

Pacing is everything, so set a good flow for instruction and explanations. If you want to pose a series of questions, try a no-hands-up approach so you don’t have to break for too long. Try to make your explanation challenging without being too hard or oversimplified— you’ll want your students to work to keep up!

Provide clear instructions

Want your class to take notes? Draw? Just sit there and listen? Let them know. If you tell them what to expect from the beginning, you’ll be able to spot who’s following along and who’s not really there in the lesson.

State Learning Goals

Clarity is king in science, and to assure your place on the throne, you’ll want to follow three golden rules for your lesson:

  1. State a clear and concise objective
  2. Identify knowledge and skills
  3. List key words and terms

State a clear and concise objective

‘Learn about plants’ isn’t going to be useful for your students, and more importantly, it’s not going to be useful for your lesson. Plants are complex! They breathe, they use the sun’s energy, they drink…there’s a lot to know.

‘Learn about photosynthesis in plants’ is better. You can now explore a specific process and prepare yourself for questions relating to it.

Identify knowledge and skills

Science is about what you know and how you know it. Your students may know that plants use photosynthesis, but how did they acquire that knowledge? Did they develop the skills to investigate something similar? Go deeper! Define the skills you’d like your students to show once the lesson is done.

List key words and terms

Your students will most likely be encountering new vocabulary and terms along with the concepts they learn in the science lesson; your goal is to make these words meaningful. This will take some tweaking and finessing, but like every great experiment, you can base your methods based on the results.

Summarise Learning

The final step is to summarise learning in a concrete way and ask: ‘Have students taken it all in?’  There are a few ways to help students concrete the lesson before everything is packed away:

  1. Exit passes
  2. Homework

Exit passes

A brief, written summary of what they understand about the lesson. It’s a simple and effective way to get an insight into both your students’ abilities and what in the class worked or needs improving.

Homework

Timeless, but also effective. The secret to good science homework is letting students research and test their new skills by applying their knowledge. If we’re following our plant lesson, get them to take photos of different kinds of plants, find images of plants in different stages of light deprivation…your imagination is the limit.

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