Category Archives: discussion techniques

It’s all fun & games

If you are a teacher, you know that loads of your students enjoy playing computer games… Do you ever use them as a starter for a discussion? 

Kirlian photo of poker symbols

Poker anyone?

Games are great because as well as being an engaging and fun hook for a topic, they can supply enough information for your students to form an opinion on the issue (which as well as empowering them to express their thoughts, helps when you are selecting supporting material for the discussion). 

Here you will find a set of games around nanotech and solar fuel cells, developed by the Royal Society. 

And while you’re at it, this week is the Royal Society’s Summer Exhibition! Entry is free and you will find amazing exhibits developed by scientists, get the chance to meet and speak to them about their work, and be inspired by thought-provoking and face-to-face fabulous science. Bookings for schools are now closed but you can contact them if you would like to bring a non-school group of up to 12. 

Summer is a great time for science :)  



New Punk Junk!

Short films are a great way of providing your students with some knowledge to bring into a discussion, or helping them formulate an opinion on an issue.

We do love films… And we love the Punk Science boys- our home-grown rambunctious science comedians. So we have put the two together.

We now have two new Punk Science films that will make all your dreams come true! Well, they will if you dream about having a fun video on ‘going green’ to show your students before a climate-science themed discussion, or a short flick that clarifies the difference between genetic modification and selective breeding.

If you dream about exotic holidays and eating cherries ’til your stomach aches then I’m not sure if Punk Science can help… but they will make you smile. Enjoy!

Eco Dan: Punk Science shows us how it's done

Eco Dan: Punk Science shows us how it's done

Emission statement

Many of us have heard about how cattle production contributes more to greenhouse emissions than cars, but have you ever wondered just how they calculate a cow’s emissions? I have, so I will share what I came across today.

Measuring methane production from a cow

The inflatable tank on the cow’s back is connected directly to the cow’s first stomach through holes in its ribs!  The data from this research is being used to determine how much Argentina’s agriculture contributes to climate change. 

If you are planning a classroom discussion around climate change, try using this image as a stimulus. In fact, take a good look at PopSci’s entire gallery of amazing science images, because many are provocative, intriguing and can be used to engage and inform your students in classroom discussions.

Swab test to predict future illness?

Could a single drop of your saliva tell you if you are prone to genetically inherited diseases?

Model of DNA

Model of DNA (SSPL)

Well this could soon be a reality according to scientists at Edinburgh University. They are developing a quick and cheap swab test to analyse your DNA. the Results could tell you if you were healthly, likely to develop a disease or diagonse conditions like cystic fibrosis. You can read more about this research here

Would you take the test? Would you like to know what your future health might be?

This story is a great starter for a dicussion around DNA, gentetics and gentic inheritance. The human barometer technique would be the perfect way to measure your student’s opinion and see how they would feel about having this test done.

Top Techniques : Powerful Questions

‘Would you wear second hand pants to save the Earth?’

How do you get your students interested in discussing a topic? Well one simple technique to hook them is to ask a powerful question. The Talk Science team have devised an easy way to come up with great questions that link what your students are interested in outside of the classroom with what you want them to discuss in lessons. Click here to find out how we do it and you too will find yourself asking your students great questions like :

‘Do boys pollute more than girls?’

and many more…….

Santa’s Den – how green is your sleigh?

Top tip: Engage your students by making your discussions topical

It could be the Copenhagen conference or the Large Hadron Colider – take advantage of whatever’s happening in the news to get your students talking. On a Christmassy theme here’s a great idea generated by teachers in Newcastle on a recent Talk Science course.

Santa’s Den

Using the format of popular TV show Dragons’ Den, students work in small groups to pitch ideas on how to make Santa’s sleigh more eco-friendly – even Santa is looking for ways to reduce his carbon footprint these days!

Santa, his sleigh and a polar bear

Santa, his sleigh and a polar bear

This is a fun and easy way to look at alternative fuels and energy sources. What do you need?

  • Some dragons (technicians do this very well as do fellow science teachers! alternatively get your students to play the part)
  • Five or six small groups of students
  • Information on alternative energy sources

Plenty of info on energy sources is available on the Science Museum’s Energy Gallery website and also from our ‘Does Flying cost the Earth?’ mini site.

Give the groups time to come up with a new way of powering Santa’s sleigh to maximise his green credentials. The add in whatever extra constraints you like – a budget limit, must generate enough power to travel round the world, does it work in the dark etc.

Each group pitches to the Dragons who can cross examine the ideas. The Dragons then decide if they want to invest or not.

For more information about role play activites click here.

Merry Christmas from the Talk Science Team!

Technique of the Week – Socratic Seminar

Here’s a unsung hero of discussion techniques: the Socratic Seminar. The Talk Science team first picked this technique up during a series of lesson observations in secondary schools across London. It’s a great format to use to encourage students to contribute, and it scores major points on the classroom management front as only one half of the class is talking at any time. Plus, it will work with just about any topic.

Bust of Socrates

Bust of Socrates

Now, he might not look the most welcoming chap, but this technique is based on Socrates’ theory that it is more important to enable students to think for themselves than to provide them with the ‘right’ answers.

Divide your students into two groups – one speaking and one listening (they will swap around later on). Ask the speaking group questions and the listening group will assess how well they answer them.  

If you want  find out more about it then check out this video. It features Beth Hickey from Westminster Academy, the teacher who told us about it the technique.

 Alongside the Talk Science, we run a series of teachers courses on running discussion around contemporary science topics. A lot of the course content has come straight from the classroom from the 800+ teachers we have worked with over the past few years, as well as the Science Museums wealth of experience in engaging students in science. Sounds interesting? Then why not come and join us on a course  – find more details here.