UKEdMag: Socratic Questioning: talking chemistry in the National Curriculum by @MrsHennah


Socratic questioning in chemistry techniques offer a mechanism to: develop oracy, build confidence and familiarity with vocabulary; explore and remedy misconceptions. All that is needed are starter questions, I have been using misconceptions identified in research[1] or heard directly from children* as my starting point. The Socratic Questioning technique is an effective way to explore ideas in depth as, students think, discuss, debate, evaluate, and analyse content through their own thinking and the thinking of those around them and, it can be used with all ages and abilities.

This article originally appeared in the February 2017 Edition of UKEdMagazine

Click here to view and/or purchase your copy

Or subscribe to the printed edition of the magazine by clicking here.

Start by asking a class to identify and explain why one of the misconception statements given in the table is a misconception. Allow at least thirty seconds for students to respond then follow up on students’ responses by ask probing questions, draw as many students as possible into the discussion and periodically summarise, preferably in writing, key points that have been discussed. This process can be enhanced by; working with mixed ages so A level students speaking to younger children a mutually beneficial process or using a mind map to capture the flow of ideas and refer back to this at a later date and perhaps add to it and concepts have developed.

The tables (view via use the Key Stage in which they are introduced or revisited and lists the misconceptions that are worth exploring through Socratic questioning.

I asked three children ages 5, 7 and 10 years to hold and ice cube and explain what was happening, the purpose of which was to use Socratic Questioning technique to explore their; knowledge, understanding and the fluency of language used to express ideas. That Ice is made of water and that changing the state of water can be brought about by heating or cooling, were understood and explained by all three children. On the subject of boiling there was confusion; the 5 year old was unaware that boiling water contains bubbles but assumed that the bubbles would be made of water. She was aware that hot water from a kettle made steam and, that this rose in the air, she related this knowledge back to the bubbles of water suggesting that the bubbles, “were steam rising to get out of the water to be steam.” The seven year old suggested that the bubbles, “are the air/oxygen fish breathe with their gills, being forced out as it got hotter.” Further probing lead him to the understanding that in fact they were predominantly steam and that this is a physical change but he was unable to explain a chemical change clearly.

The 10 year old said that the bubbles, “contain oxygen from H2O” this was then modified to steam and oxygen explaining that, “if we capture the gas/ gasses given off water reform like condensation.” Changes in state misidentified as chemical changes, probing these ideas further I asked for the formula of water and, then ice, his face lit up and he announced, “H2O, they are all H2O so it doesn’t change, it’s not a chemical reaction and the bubbles have to be steam!”

These interviews demonstrate that understanding is closely linked to experience and, that by probing and challenging their ideas they can be brought to a deeper understanding. The children heard, used and discussed scientific language to express and refine their understanding of changes in matter. I believe careful attention to vocabulary and providing more opportunities to practice and explore meaning will, develop students’ oracy, fluency of thought and, enhance understanding of concepts. I will close with a quote that exemplifies why I have worked through the English national curriculum in search of chemistry and tried to suggest methods to make it more accessible to learners of all ages.

“This is a cautionary tale as “Students, of any age, bring beliefs and life and academic experiences to the classroom that influence what and how they learn. At times, such prior knowledge facilitates learning by creating mental hooks that serve to anchor instructional concepts. Conversely, the acquisition of new content can be thwarted if it conflicts with students’ pre-existing misinformation. As a result, the role of prior knowledge in learning is paradoxical: it can lead to success and failure in the classroom. Consequently, teachers and students alike can benefit from taking time before instruction to identify what is known or, more accurately, believed to be known about a topic.”[2]


1. Christopher Horton, Student Alternative Conceptions in Chemistry California Journal of Science Education, 7(2) 2007

2. Linda Campbell and Bruce Campbell, Mindful Learning: 101 Proven Strategies for Student and Teacher Success, Corwin Press, 28 Aug 2008

Naomi Hennah @MrsHennah is a teacher of Science with a Chemistry specialism at Northampton School for Boys. Having taught for more than ten years Naomi is convinced that language is pivotal to successful science education “developing literacy and oracy skills empowers Students, deepens their understanding and raises attainment.” Naomi is a member of the Royal Society of Chemistry and is indebted to them for their support of schools and teachers.

You need to or Register to bookmark/favorite this content.

About UKEdChat Editorial 3187 Articles
The Editorial Account of UKEdChat, managed by editor-in-chief Colin Hill, with support from Martin Burrett from the UKEd Magazine. Pedagogy, Resources, Community.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.