Teaching primary science…our top 10 tips for non-experts

As British Science Week draws to a close, Cornerstones’ expert in primary science, Dr Fran Barnes, shares her tips for teaching primary science.

1. Is it a fair test?

In the previous science curriculum there was an over emphasis on fair testing. However, the new science curriculum now places equal importance on five different investigation types:

  • grouping and classifying
  • observing over time
  • pattern seeking
  • research
  • testing (including simple, comparative and fair tests).

This broadening of investigation types means that not all practical science has to be resource or time heavy.

2. Use the correct terminology


Be consistent with your use of terminology, especially with regards to the scientific method. Also display a list of key scientific vocabulary connected with your theme or investigation and encourage their accurate use in the children’s report writing and explanations.

You could even start a scientific glossary that the class can add to over the year.

3. Be prepared

Have a go at all, or elements of, an investigation yourself before letting the children loose. This way, you can make any necessary tweaks to the investigation, identify any potential pitfalls and have an idea of what the likely result is going to be.

4. Basic skills and knowledge are important

In our rush to get started on an investigation we can often forget that children may not be secure with the relevant skills or knowledge to actually carry it out effectively. Try to take the time to lay the groundwork before they begin.

In each investigation in Love to Investigate there are a series of short pre-investigation tasks to ensure children are well prepared for the investigation ahead.

5. Making a prediction

Children often struggle making predictions as they don’t want to be wrong. Make it clear to them that a prediction doesn’t need to be the right answer it is simply their thoughts about what ‘might’ happen based on what they already know.

6. Set out a clear method for children to follow

The method is the cornerstone of any investigation. Make sure any instructions you give are clearly laid out in a way that children understand and can become familiar with.

In Love to Investigate we use a ‘game board’ approach as an engaging and consistent way for children to follow the method step-by-step.

Love to Investigate - Worms method board

7. Record by any means

Recording is essential but many children dislike recording due to the formal approaches used. Sometimes a formal recording method is necessary but many investigations can be recorded in more creative ways such as drawing, note taking, video, photographs and audio recording.

8. What does it all mean?

An important part of any science investigation is the analysis and interpretation of results. This is where a lot of teachers are anxious that their own knowledge will let them down. Don’t worry!

This final stage is all about encouraging children’s joined-up thinking, relating what they have seen or done to ‘real’ life. The best way to do this is by effective questioning, starting with simple questions about what they have done and why before delving deeper. Some children’s ideas will blow your mind, so be prepared!

9. Just remember… science doesn’t always go to plan!

Ask any scientist and they will tell you that many of their investigations don’t work as expected. Keep in mind that a negative result is still a result and that some of the world’s greatest discoveries were made accidentally.

So, if an investigation doesn’t go the way you hope, don’t be disheartened. Use these occasions to discuss why it hasn’t worked and what you would do differently next time.

10. Make science a talking point

Use science statements such as, ‘All planets are spherical’ or ‘All smoking should be banned’, to prompt research and debate. This can be really useful for some of those tricky-to-cover programmes of study.

Also use what is happening in the news to inform your scientific discussions. The 2015 phenomena ‘What colour is this dress?’ was a fascinating opportunity to discuss differences in our perception and great for a quick bit of data collection and handling. Gold and cream or blue and black?


Practical science beyond Science Week


Love to Investigate

Love to Investigate is a set of 126 scientific investigations that encourage children to be curious, ask questions and explore the world around them.

Our series of practical, exciting investigations cover tricky topics in new and unusual ways, including evolution, mechanisms and forces. All activities come with background knowledge for teachers who haven’t taught the topic before and method boards to help children work more independently.

Find out more about Love to Investigate.

Published by

Dr Fran

Dr Fran Barnes is Cornerstones' expert in primary science. Fran is a molecular and cell biologist with a passion for hands-on, practical science in the classroom. She writes our Love to Investigate series and the science topics in our curriculum.

More posts by this author