Learning in community tools

Pedagogical tools to create a collaborative learning community in your classroom.

Collaborative learning

Collaborative learning occurs when two or more students learn or attempt to learn something together (P. Dillenbourg, 1999). This is distinct from cooperative learning where students work side by side on the same table.

Working in collaborative team benefits student learning outcomes, the development of science inquiry skills and enhances students' ability to work effectively within a group. This approach benefits from the explicit teaching of skills in listening, questioning, providing explanations and making decisions.

Students' ability to listen equally to each member of a group provides opportunities to:

  • observe new ways of thinking
  • consider multiple perspectives
  • encounter new vocabulary in context
  • build on one another’s ideas discuss and
  • debate ideas revise and rethink their reasoning.

Classroom processes that support this include ‘Gallery walk’, ‘Establishing norms’ and ‘Science question starters’.

This, in turn, also supports the development of students’ science inquiry skills, as it allows them to:

  • ask questions in context
  • share, justify and refine predictions
  • process and analyse in meaningful ways
  • compare and evaluate conclusions and claims
  • refine their science communication skills.

Classroom process that support this include ‘Claim, evidence and reasoning’.

By experiencing the benefits of working in a team, students begin to value the opportunity for collaboration. They learn to:

  • communicate effectively
  • make decisions
  • negotiate and resolve conflict
  • appreciate diverse perspectives
  • become resilient and adaptive
  • build confidence.

All of these attributes are features of the Australian Curriculum General Capability ‘Personal and Social Capability’ and can be found on the Personal and Social Capabilities continuum.

Discuss with colleagues

Discuss an example of:

  • a challenging classroom situation that arose during student group work.
  • how you delt with the situation at the time
  • how you could set expectations in the classroom before the group activity begins

Identify a picture book in your school that models resolving a conflict.


  • how the picture book approaches conflict.
  • the advantages and disadvantages of using the story and approach in the classroom


Pierre Dillenbourg. What do you mean by collaborative learning?. P. Dillenbourg. Collaborative learning: Cognitive and Computational Approaches., Oxford: Elsevier, pp.1-19, 1999. ffhal-00190240

Skamp, K., & Preston, C. (2021). Teaching primary science constructively (7th ed.). Cengage Learning Australia.

Making sense of teacher talk

Teacher: What do we call it when the puddles dry out in the schoolground?

Student: Soaking in

Teacher: No, there’s another word I’m looking for ….

Teachers interact with students in their classes in many ways, but teacher talk is a major part of the teacher’s craft in supporting student learning. The above is an example of the IRE (initiation-response-evaluation) or IRF ( … feedback) pattern where the teacher asks a question, students answer and receive an evaluative response. This pattern, while typical, can limit a student’s willingness to answer questions and therefore limit their learning.

In the LIA framework the teacher discourse shifts as the class moves from the Launch phase through the Inquiry phase, including the routines of ‘Question’, ‘Investigate’ and ‘Integrate’. For the Question routine, the teacher might pose questions that open up new ways of looking at phenomena such as evaporation or animal diversity, or probing students’ ideas. In the Investigate routine, as students begin to develop their ideas and interpretations, the teacher ‘discourse moves’ might include questions that challenge or suggest. In the Integrate routine the emphasis is on pulling together ideas, asking for elaborations, comparing viewpoints, and steering towards science ideas.

The intention is to provide opportunities for students to voice and share ideas. The aim is always to establish a classroom culture that values high level exchanges and develops a ‘common knowledge’ (Edwards & Mercer, 1987) that is shared. This can occur through approaches that strategically link chains of IRE patterns. It is useful, however, to unpack the different moves that teachers use to support student learning and establish scientific ideas and practices.

Key ideas

There are two main types of classroom discourse;

  • ‘dialogic’ discourse in which teachers open up students’ ideas by asking open questions, and accept contributions without shutting down lines of inquiry, and
  • ‘authoritative’ discourse where teachers actively shape the discourse (including board work and material demonstrations) to refine students’ thinking and establish powerful scientific concepts and practices.

Research has identified key strategies underpinning science teachers’ classroom talk:

  • Canvassing ideas: eliciting students’ knowledge or interpretations
  • Shaping ideas: comparing or distinguishing between ideas
  • Selecting ideas: asking students to expand on preferred ideas,
  • Marking ideas: placing emphasis on good ideas,
  • Checking student understanding, and
  • Promoting shared meaning: rehearsing students’ ideas with the class.

These can be arranged to broadly correspond to the phases of the LIA pedagogy, where questions are generated that drive the inquiry, and students’ ideas are canvassed and progressively shaped to build communal understanding. The more detailed categories below of accomplished teachers’ ‘discourse moves’ draw heavily on the analysis of Tytler, Aranda & Freitag-Amtmann (2017).

Probing and acknowledging students’ ideasTeachers probe ideas about a phenomenon in ways that acknowledge student inputs and establish them as contributions that are valued in building understanding in the classroom. The aim is to get ideas ‘on the table’.
  1. Asking a new question
Asking a question to begin a new line of inquiry or discussion; ‘what living things might we find in different places in the school ground?’.
2. AcknowledgingSimply saying ‘ok’ without affirming or drawing particular attention. This could be a nod.
3. MarkingDrawing attention to a valued or interesting student input, for instance by repeating the response, or writing it on the board.
4. Evaluating- affirming or discountingOffering a positive evaluative response to the student’s response; ‘that’s a good idea’ ‘wow .. interesting’; or taking the response out of contention; ‘that’s not really relevant’, ‘that’s interesting but can’t help us in this case’
Clarifying movesTeachers clarify and sharpen student inputs to achieve greater clarity of meaning around ideas.
5. Requesting confirmation or clarificationAsking the student to confirm their intended meaning through repeating using different or more precise words; ‘So are you saying that … ?’; or asking for clarification; ‘can you talk a bit more about your idea?’
6. Re-framing the QuestionAsking the question in a different way to clarify what is being asked; ‘That's not quite what I meant. Let me give you an instance. If ….

7. Re-voicing


Re-casting a student’s response to introduce scientific language, or a related new idea.

Student: the moon moves around us (waving arm in an arc)

Teacher: ‘So… it orbits the earth in a circle’

This might involve paraphrasing a few responses: ‘so you both seeing heat as something that moves from a hot to a cold object?’

8. Asking a Review QuestionAsking a question requiring an answer that should be known to the class, to reinforce a term or idea; ‘ ... and what do we call this point again, and why is it important?’

Extending moves


These moves aim to shift students’ ideas forward by challenging them to extend or re-think their ideas or use them in another context.
9. Requesting elaborationRequesting a student to extend / elaborate on their idea; ‘That’s interesting, can you talk some more about how this applies more generally’ ‘So if you say … can you be a bit more precise about …’
10. Canvassing opinionAsking for other students’ opinion on the response; ‘who agrees with what … said- does anyone have a different idea?’ This may open up productive argumentation.
11. Asking an extending questionAsking a related question that introduces a new element to the discussion that extends the idea. E.g. Mr X establishes that two pieces of paper weigh the same and then asks; ‘but if I scrunch this one up do they still weigh the same?’
12. Challenging directlyChallenging students to reconsider their response, to extend their thinking; ‘But if that’s the case, wouldn’t it imply that …?’ ‘Do you really think that ...’, ‘But doesn’t that contradict what we just agreed about …?
13. Challenging to extend IdeasExplicitly challenging students to use their idea in a new context; “Sand can change its shape to fit a container. Is it therefore a liquid?” or “what would your idea imply for THIS OTHER situation”
Elaborating, presenting the scientific viewIntroducing formal science ideas, terminology and conventions that resolve and/or extend the discussion.


The moves described above are sequenced to represent a movement from opening up questions on a science topic, to supporting students as they generate ideas, to extending these ideas towards generating a consensus position in which class agreement is reached on the science practices and explanations. This represents an immersion of students in scientific practices of questioning, analysing and explaining, and communicating. The discourse moves are appropriate for supporting students’ inquiry practices (designing experiments, analysing) as well as their conceptual explanatory practices.

Discuss with colleagues

Consider the classroom dialogue below (from Tytler & Prain, 2022, p. 34: Colin, the teacher, is with the class in the schoolground) and discuss: 1) aspects of the exchange that are dialogic, and aspects that are authoritative; and 2) the nature of the discourse moves made by the teacher:

Ben: … hundreds and hundreds of millipedes are right in that section.

Colin: Why are they in that section? (pointing to garden with soil — and then rephrasing) Why do you think you'll find more millipedes right in here (pointing to garden & soil) than here (pointing to sand area)? Why do you think Ben?

Ben: Because there, there's more darkness and they need darkness to camouflage from the birds.

Colin: Oooh. Did you hear that? That was a really good answer. Ben said that they like the soil, they like the dark because they can blend in.

Ben: So, they don't get eaten.

Colin: That's one really good point — What happens when you start digging deeper in the soil? Does the soil feel dry or does it feel wet?

Class: Wet.

Colin: So, do you think that maybe you'd find living things in the wet soil?

Jules: Yes! (loudly)

Colin: Why do you think that’s — Jules?

Jules: They like water.

Colin (restates) They like water — they like the moist soil…

Use the example below to discuss possible teacher responses to the students comment that:

  • Mark the response from S1 and S2
  • Revoice the comments from both students
  • Request elaboration from S1
  • Canvass an opinion on both students responses

Teacher (T): We are going to be looking at a food chain this lesson. What do we know about food chains?

Student 1 (S1): They show what everyone eats.

Student 2 (S2): I think it shows the energy.


Tytler, R., Aranda, G., & Freitag-Amtmann, I. (2017). Teachers from Diverse Cultural Settings Orchestrating Classroom Discourse. In M. Hackling, J. Ramseger, & H-L S. Chen (Eds), Quality Teaching in Primary Science Education: Cross-cultural perspectives (pp. 123-148). Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-44383-6_5

Tytler, R., & Prain, V. (2022). Interdisciplinary Mathematics and Science – a guided inquiry approach to enhance student learning. Teaching Science, 68(1), 31-43.