Not using scientific terminology? A study that investigates language and concept development in the primary science classroom

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The language of science has the potential to aid high order conceptual
explanation and provide an effective means of communication, but emphasis on
verbal correctness can frequently limit children’s ability to conceptualise scientific ideas. Furthermore as children are introduced to the discourse of science they may experience cultural insecurity, limiting identity with the subject and potentially resulting in underachievement. This qualitative study takes a socio-cultural perspective and investigates whether an approach that minimises the use of scientific terminology in the classroom can impact the learning of primary age children. The work was carried out in schools serving socially disadvantaged communities where the issue of cultural disaffiliation from the practices of science can be more significant. Planning meetings were carried out with teachers in which concepts were isolated from the scientific terms traditionally associated with them. The discourse of the teachers in these meetings and in follow up interviews was recorded, being supplemented by recordings from classroom observations. Data was analysed for evidence of identity with particular modes of discourse and the level of exploratory
discourse that took place. This analysis has indicated that there was an increased focus on exploratory discourse in the classroom with enhanced confidence in explaining concepts using everyday language. Evidence was also seen of greater identity affiliation with the social discourse of science for both staff and pupils, particularly among less able boys and those with literacy difficulties. The study reveals the significance, for children at a formative stage in their education, of cultural identity with science’s discursive practices and the importance of pedagogical approaches that focus on language and conceptual development.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the ESERA 2013 Conference
Subtitle of host publicationScience Education Research For Evidence-based Teaching and Coherence in Learning
EditorsC P Constantinou, N Papadouris, A Hadjigeorgiou
Place of PublicationNicosia, Cyprus
PublisherEuropean Science Education Research Association
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9789963700776
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jan 2014


  • DIscourse
  • Identity
  • Literacy
  • Socio-constructivism
  • Primary School
  • Science education


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