Have words, will understand? Shifting the focus from words to concepts – does it work?

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Shifting the focus from words to concepts--does it work? The author shares his findings from such a project with three primary schools in the UK. Many children aged 7-10 find mastering the language of science difficult and do not make the progress that they could. Encountering complex terminology in the science language causes students to become disengaged. A project of planned teacher meetings involved taking a forthcoming science topic and deconstructing it, in terms of its language and concepts. Topics were selected that involved a lot of subject vocabulary, and turned into concepts. As these topics were introduced to the children, they worked in mixed-ability groups on a variety of stations that presented phenomena involving forces, such as picking up jelly using different chopsticks as a means of exploring friction. Students were encouraged to discuss their thinking as a group and then record a brief summary of their ideas. The teachers played an active role in stimulating student discussions and observed the groups of pupils making progress beyond what they normally achieved. Real progress was seen in constructing and using concepts when the teachers focused on observational experience and carefully guided children towards the more abstract ideas. Many of the teachers revitalised their approach to teaching certain topics, and student exploration with concepts was improved without having to emphasise verbal correctness.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)10-13
Number of pages4
JournalPrimary Science
Issue number127
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2013


  • Children’s ideas
  • concept development
  • literacy


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