Eliciting students’ ideas

Why do we use these particular practices?

Our main objective as science teachers is to change students’ thinking over time, so we need to know what our students understand about the target science ideas in the first place. This set of practices—eliciting students’ ideas—is used at the beginning of a unit of instruction. It is designed to 1) reveal the range of resources that students use to reason about a set of science ideas (working theories, everyday experiences, language), 2) activate their prior knowledge about the topic, and 3) help you to adapt upcoming instruction, based on how students reason about the anchoring event. Please note that this set of practices is about more than “hooking” students or temporarily capturing their interest.

This page does not describe the practices in depth—that is done in the primer document (see below). We also recommend that you watch the orientation videos to see these practices in action.

Some important links to learn more about this set of practices:

Orientation videos that show this set of practices in action

Eliciting Students Ideas —the primer for learning about it

Eliciting Students Ideas—the tool for designing your own lessons

Brief intro about what the practices look like

skaterYou will be eliciting students’ ideas about the anchoring phenomenon for your unit, but you can’t just show any part of that event and say “Tell me what you think.” You have to do some creative work to develop a rich task for students about the anchoring event—a task that should have the potential to open up the broadest range of thinking by students on the target ideas. The rich task can be questions directly about the anchoring event itself. Or, you can select a related phenomenon, demonstration, story, object, puzzle, image, or experience that can be an entry point for conversations and speculations by students about the core science ideas. The task should be about something the students have experienced before, can relate to in some way, or will experience together as part of the task. One 6th grade teacher used an image of a skateboarder to elicit his students’ ideas about force, motion, and friction.

When you elicit students’ ideas, there are three options for making their thinking public, so it can be “worked on” throughout the unit.

Option 1. You could have selected students share out their small group models that they’ve drawn. You might select who shares out to get as many different hypotheses out in the air.

Option 2.You, as the teacher, could create a whole class list of their hypotheses (like 4 or 5). To get this started you put up two sentence frames on the board, so students know how to participate in this science discourse. One is: “We think [the phenomenon] has something to do with________.” The other is “We think [the phenomenon] happens the way it does because ________.” The first of these two is easier for students to contribute to, because it does not require a causal story. An example is listed below of theories that fourth graders had about how a singer could break a glass with just the sound from his voice.

Option 3.The third option is for you to sketch out a whole class consensus model. This can be very sparse because the whole class will fully agree on very little. Ask the students, “What should I label? What can we agree on that we observed? Can we agree on what might be going on that is unobservable? What are we not sure about, or need to learn more about?”

ZSoundInitialTheory All three of these options are community tools for further intellectual work; any of the three can be developed, added to, subtracted from, or re-organized by students as the unit progresses. You’d refer to these as “Ideas we need to work on together.” No matter which of the three kinds of representation you create with students, you can ask at the very end of class: “What questions we have now about the phenomenon? What kinds of information or experiences might we need to learn more?”

After class the teacher takes stock of students’ contributions. The teacher considers what students expressed in terms of partial understandings, alternative conceptions, linguistic resources (academic language, everyday vocabulary, ways of arguing) they used to make sense of the initial puzzle or event, and everyday experiences that they related to some aspect of the phenomenon (or perhaps vicarious experiences from the media).

Remember, the video cases we have on this site are your best resources for seeing these practices come alive.


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