Authentic Lessons for 21st Century Learning

Discourse in Science

Patricia McDaniels-Gomez, Teresa Lansford | Published: April 5th, 2022 by K20 Center


Participants consider the benefits of discourse in science and explore three strategies that support discourse in the classroom by role playing as students. They then discuss the benefits of each of the three strategies for incorporating discourse in their classroom. In small groups, participants discuss which strategies they could use in their classroom and consider how they would modify them to best serve their students. Participants also reflect and discuss in small groups how these strategies can be effective at promoting discourse.

Essential Questions

  • Why is discourse important to science instruction?

  • How do we foster discourse in the science classroom?

Learning Goals

  • Participants explore instructional strategies and resources that promote discourse in the science classroom.

  • Participants analyze how these instructional strategies and resources promote discourse in the science classroom.

Materials List

  • Presentation Slides (attached)

  • Honeycomb Harvest Cards (attached, 1 per participant or small group)

  • Cystic Fibrosis Reading (attached, 1 per participant)

  • Say Something (attached, 1 per participant)

  • Note Catcher (attached, 1 per participant)

  • Pens/pencils

  • Devices to access the Internet

  • Sticky Notes

Engage: What is Discourse?

5 Minute(s)

Display slide 3. Briefly review the Essential Questions:

  • Why is discourse important to science instruction?

  • How do we foster meaningful discourse in the science classroom?

Display slide 4. Identify the learning goals of the lesson:

  • Participants explore instructional strategies and resources that promote discourse in the science classroom.

  • Participants analyze how these instructional strategies and resources promote discourse in the science classroom.

Display slide 5. Divide participants into small groups. Ask the groups to explore the definition of discourse in a classroom setting by considering the following question: What words or phrases best describe discourse as it relates to the science classroom?

Ask participants to use their phones or other devices to go to and use the custom Mentimeter code to connect them with the presentation. As participants enter their responses, use presentation mode on Mentimeter to display the Word Cloud on the board as it is being created. Once all responses have been submitted, call on participants to share their observations about the ideas that were contributed to the Word Cloud. Offer your own perceptions and interpretations, if time permits.

Display slide 6. As a concluding activity, invite the groups to discuss the notion that classroom discourse encompasses a variety of written and spoken forms of communication, including students' engaging in expressing their ideas, discussing their reasoning, and representing their thinking. Discourse can be talking, listening, writing, reflecting, or representing.

The Value of Discourse

5 Minute(s)

Show slide 7. Review the list of items illustrating the importance of classroom discourse.

Direct participants to return to the Menti site. Ask them to read through the items on the poll screen. Have participants choose the statement they feel best captures the importance of promoting discourse in the classroom.

Before displaying the results of the poll, ask participants to discuss with their small groups which item they believe is most important. Ask each person to share what they chose and explain their rationale.

After groups have had a chance to share with each other, display the results of the poll and ask for volunteers to share their thoughts.

Return to slide 7 and conclude the discussion by noting that each of these items is equally important. Share with participants that they will next examine several strategies that can be used to integrate and sustain discourse in the classroom.

Exploring Discourse Strategies

2 Minute(s)

Explain to participants that they are going to explore three instructional strategies, each of which can be used to support discourse in the classroom.

Participants first explore the strategy by role-playing as students using a science content example. After an introduction to the strategy, they explain in their own words how using this strategy can integrate and sustain discourse in the classroom. After they have explored all of these strategies, they Extend their thinking by considering how they might use these strategies in their own classrooms.

Discourse Strategy 1: Analyzing Texts with Surprising, Interesting, Troubling

10 Minute(s)


Show slide 8.

Give each participant a copy of the Cystic Fibrosis Reading. Advise the participants they will role-play students using the S-I-T strategy. Identify the document as one they might use if teaching a biology course. The document discusses what cystic fibrosis is, how one contracts it, how it is diagnosed, and the treatments for it.

Show slide 9. Have participants read the document closely. Ask them to note an idea or fact that surprises them, an idea or fact that interests them, and an idea or fact that troubles them.

Once participants have had a chance to read the document individually, ask them to discuss their responses in small groups. Give each group three sticky notes and ask that they work together to write a response for S-I-T, one response on each sticky.

Conclude the discussion by commenting on shared responses from using the S-I-T strategy, which generated conversation about Cystic Fibrosis. Inform the participants that this activity is used in Cystic Fibrosis: A DNA Case Study lesson on K20's LEARN website.


Show slide 9. Pass out the Discourse in Science Note Catcher handout (see Attachments). Tell participants that based on their experience with the S-I-T strategy, consider the following question: How can the S-I-T strategy foster discourse in your classroom?

Ask participants to discuss this in their small groups. Request that they fill out the S-I-T Strategy section on the Note Catcher handout.

When groups are finished discussing the strategy, reassemble as a whole group. Have groups to share their thoughts with the whole group.

Summarize the discussion, highlighting that S-I-T can promote discourse because it provides students with a structure for content-centered discussions in which students share their thinking with their peers. They must make a claim and then support that claim with evidence and reasoning. This could be done both verbally and in writing.

Discourse Strategy 2: Making Connections with Honeycomb Harvest

10 Minute(s)


Show slide 10. Identify the next strategy, Honeycomb Harvest, and review how to implement this strategy.

Show slide 11. Explain to participants that the terms for this activity are related to DNA.

Provide sets of the Honeycomb Harvest cards to each participant or small group of participants. Give participants 5-10 minutes to arrange the honeycombs to best represent their understanding of the relationship among these concepts.

Consider giving an example to help participants get started. For example, you could say that the "gene" and "recessive" honeycombs could touch because one is a type of gene.

When the participants have completed the task, have each individual share their reasoning with their small group. If small groups complete their Harvests together, have them rotate to another group to see other arrangements to compare and contrast.

Bring the group back together and discuss the variety in the arrangements. Emphasize that it is likely that students will also produce a variety of arrangements. As long as students can explain their reasoning, their arrangement should be considered correct.


Show slide 11. Based on their experience with the Honeycomb Harvest, have participants consider the following question: How can the Honeycomb Harvest strategy foster discourse in your classroom?

Have participants discuss this topic with their small groups. Have them fill out the Honeycomb Harvest strategy section on their Note Catcher handout.

After the groups have discussed their perceptions, bring the whole group back together and ask them to share their thoughts with the whole group.

Summarize the discussion, highlighting that the Honeycomb Harvest enables students to explain their reasoning and negotiate their thinking with their peers to represent their understanding of the content.

Discourse Strategy 3: Academic Conversations with Say Something

15 Minute(s)


Show slide 12.

Introduce the final strategy called Say Something. Give each participant a copy of the Say Something handout and explain that the handout can be given to students any time there is going to be small group or whole group discussion. Display slide 13 and introduce the sentence starters from their handout. These starters help students learn how to participate in academic conversations effectively with their peers and aid students in expressing their ideas, asking questions, and supporting their claims with evidence.

Move to slide 14. Ask participants to consider how they could use this strategy to examine videos. Show the video embedded on the slide "Facts and Stories About the Blue Fugates."

Ask participants to look over the Say Something handout as they watch the video. Give them five minutes with small groups for practice using the Say Something sentence starters to engage in an academic conversation about the video and its genetic significance.

Extend/Evaluate: Reflecting on Discourse

8 Minute(s)

Conclude the discussion by reviewing slide 15. Ask participants to consider their students and reflect on how these strategies would look in their classroom. Discuss the following questions in their small groups:

  • Which of today's strategies do you plan to implement in your classroom? Why?

  • Are these strategies likely to be effective in promoting discourse? Explain.

  • How might you modify these strategies to work with your students? Explain.

Encourage participants to record their responses on the back of the Note Catcher handout, if they wish.

After groups have had a chance to discuss, ask participants to record their answers on their Note Catchers and have volunteers share responses to the whole group.

Research Rationale

3 Minute(s)

Authentic learning—exploring meaningful concepts, their relationships, and real-world context—is inherent in disciplined inquiry and complex understanding. Rule (2006) noted that rich problems adhere to principles such as "personal meaningfulness to students; construction, refinement, or extension of a model; self-evaluation; documentation of mathematical thinking; useful prototype for other structurally similar problems; and generalization to a broader range of situations."

Not surprisingly, these traits are similar to the traits of good essential questions. There are a number of academic benefits for students and teachers that can be accomplished by giving time and space in the classroom for students to have conversations. When student conversation is an integrated part of the learning, students get practice working with one another; they get practice being accountable to others, listening, sharing their ideas in ways that others can understand, and working together to make decisions (Gillies, 2016; Resnick, Michaels, & Connor, 2010; Gibbs, 2006).

The learning that results from student conversations increases student motivation, self-esteem, and problem-solving outcomes. For teachers, giving students a space to speak provides insight into how students organize their thoughts and can serve as formative assessments of what students are learning over the course of a lesson.