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Science Talk

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The information presented in this evidence-based practice resource is adapted from Ambitious Science Teaching and the Talk Science Primer from the Inquiry Project.

“If we consider learning to be not just a personal act, but also a collective endeavor in which students reason together, then talk is important because it transforms an individual’s ideas, puzzlements, conjectures, and questions into public resources for others to think with.” –Ambitious Science Teaching


Elements of Academically Productive Talk

  • Teacher belief that all students are smart and capable and can learn from participating in well structured discussions.
  • Science talk relies on the establishment of a welcoming environment where all students feel respected, are comfortable taking risks, and values student ideas. Well-established norms or ground rules for talk help to build this culture.
  • Frequent opportunities for talk within a science unit affords multiple meaningful contexts for developing language and opportunities to bridge from the use of everyday language to the language of science.
  • Students should be encouraged and allowed to use the type of language (e.g., everyday language, imperfect English, native language) that is accessible to them in order to fully support the expressions of their ideas.
  • Determining appropriate scaffolds to support varying levels of student proficiency is critical to enable all students to engage, make meaning, and show what they know.
  • Science talk should be used for various purposes, all of which can be productive to students’ meaning making. Talks can be conducted to elicit students’ initial ideas, generate questions, make meaning of data, refine explanations, and draw conclusions.
  • The preparation of a well-thought out question to frame the discussion, and a few follow-up questions is important to ensure meaningful student talk.
  • Science talks take on different structures (pair share, small-group, whole-class, etc.). They can be brief or extended, and they can occur at different stages of a learning sequence.
  • Strategic “talk moves” should be used consistently over time to help maintain rigorous, coherent, engaging, and equitable discussions.

“Talk moves can be used at any point in a discussion, in any subject domain, and are especially helpful in classroom settings. They strategically set students up to think, reason, and collaborate in academically productive ways.” –Talk Science Primer


Why is Talk Important?

  • Talk is integral to human learning and provides a window into student thinking, revealing understanding and misunderstanding.
  • Talk helps teachers make decisions on how to support students as they progress in their language development.
  • Student talk makes their thinking public.
  • Students’ ideas are resources and perspectives for others. Through exchanging views with others, students develop their understanding of the science beyond what could be achieved individually.
  • Talk supports robust learning by boosting memory, providing richer associations, and supporting language development.
  • Talk supports deeper reasoning and encourages students to reason with evidence.
  • Talk supports the development of social skills and encourages risk-taking which can have big payoffs for learning.
  • Scientists and engineers communicate through talk to make sense of their work, gather feedback, and refine their ideas.
  • Talk apprentices students into the social and intellectual practices of science.

“The ultimate goal of science talk is to create a discourse-rich classroom culture where the natural synergy between language and meaning making supports all students in expressing ideas, developing language, and acquiring new knowledge of scientific phenomena.” –Exploratorium


Goal One: Students Share, Expand, and Clarify Their Own Thinking

1. Time to Think:

  • Partner Talk
  • Writing as Think Time
  • Wait Time

2. Probing:

  • “What did you notice happening here?”
  • “What did you think was going to happen when ___?”
  • “What experience have you had with __”

3. Say More:

  • “Can you say more about that?”
  • “What do you mean by that?”
  • “Can you give an example?” • “Can you explain/describe it in a different way?”

4. Revoicing:

  • “So, let me see if I’ve got what you’re saying Are you saying...?” (always leaving space for the original student to agree or disagree and say more)

“Here’s a very simple kind of logic about talk in classrooms. We start with learning — learning is a result of thinking. Certain forms of classroom talk stimulate thinking. Therefore the orchestration of productive discourse in classrooms presents opportunities for students to learn. The key here is discerning productive from unproductive talk.” –Ambitious Science Teaching


Goal Two: Students Listen Carefully to One Another

5. Who Can Rephrase or Repeat?

  • “Who can repeat what Javon just said or put it into their own words?” (After a partner talk)
  • “What did you hear your partner say?”

“There is a strong reciprocal relationship between science talk and science writing. Talking can be a precursor to writing, and writing can be a precursor to talking. For instance, students can have a science talk before writing so they can listen to others and rehearse their own language and ideas before committing them to print. Writing in their notebooks, in turn, can give students a reference to draw upon when sharing out in a whole-group science talk. The combination of science talk and science writing supports the learning of science ideas and, in the process, helps students develop the language to express these ideas..” –Exploratorium


Goal Three: Students Deepen Their Reasoning

6. Pressing:

  • “Why do you think that?”
  • “What’s your evidence?”
  • “How did you arrive at that conclusion?”
  • “Is there anything in the text that made you think that?”
  • “How does your explanation fit with the data?”

7. Challenge or Counterexample:

  • “Does it always work that way?”
  • “How does that idea square with Sara’s example?”
  • “What if it had been ___ instead?”
  • “How is that different from what was just said?”

8. Focusing:

  • “Tell us just about [this smaller part] of the story - focus on that.”
  • “Tell me what you think ___ means.”
  • “If we just look at ___ instead of all of it, what does this one observation represent?”
  • “Think about how [X] is related to [Y].”
  • “Let’s just talk about this part of the model…”

“Together, in the context of a rich task, talk moves help to build a classroom culture of equity, risktaking, intellectual effort, and respect.” –Talk Science Primer


Goal Four: Students Think with Others

9. Opening Up Cross-Talk:

  • “Can you tell Jordan whether you agree or disagree with his statement and why or why not?
  • “Are you saying the same thing as Jelya or something different, and if it’s different, how is it different?”
  • “What do people think about what Vannia said?”
  • “Does anyone want to respond to that idea? And please talk to the person rather than me.”

10. Add On:

  • “Who can add onto the idea that Jamal is building?”
  • “Can anyone take that suggestion and push it a little further?”

11. Explaining What Someone Else Means:

  • “Who can explain what Aisha means when she says that?”
  • “Who thinks they could explain in their words why Simon came up with that answer?”
  • “Why do you think he said that?”
  • “Can you rephrase what Marie said in your own words, and check with her to see if that’s what she meant?”

“Every conversation should have a purpose that students can understand, and if you define this for yourself ahead of time, then it becomes easier to plan how to initiate the talk with students, select tools and routines that can support the goals, and manage specific kinds of participation along the way.” –Ambitious Science Teaching


Additional Information

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