Supporting teachers to develop substantive discourse in primary science classrooms

Document Type

Journal Article


Social Science Press


School of Education




This article was originally published as:Smith, Prudence (04.2016). "Supporting Teachers to Develop Substantive Discourse in Primary Science Classrooms". The Australian journal of teacher education (0313-5373), 41 (4), p. 151. Original article available here


Students' thinking and learning in inquiry-based science is contingent on them being able to participate in substantive conversations so they explore their ideas and develop reasons and explanations for the outcomes of their investigations. While teachers understand the importance of talk for student learning, they are often unaware of the impact of their discourse practice on the quality of classroom talk. To develop substantive classroom discourse, first teachers need to understand what substantive talk looks and sounds like, and then they need to develop their capacity to use questioning and discourse moves to achieve such talk. Science poses additional challenges for teachers in that the form of discourse needs to be matched to the instructional purpose of the phase of inquiry. This article presents the findings of a study which documented the learning of primary school teachers participating in a professional learning intervention focussed on developing their capacity to manage discourse in science lessons. The article outlines the repertoire of questioning and discourse moves the teachers came to use to develop substantive whole-class discussions.



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