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A systematic review of the use of small-group discussions in science teaching with students aged 11-18, and their effects on students' understanding in science or attitude to science

What do we want to know?

This review focuses on small-group discussions in science teaching.  Small-group discussions have been strongly advocated as an important teaching approach in school science for a number of years, partly arising from a more general movement towards student-centred learning, and partly as a means of drawing on recommendations from constructivist research, where it is seen as very important to provide students with an opportunity to articulate and reflect on their own ideas about scientific phenomena. The review has two principal aims: to identify the ways in which small-group discussions are currently used in science lessons; and to look at the effects of small-group discussions on students’ understanding of science ideas.

Who wants to know?

Policy-makers; practitioners; students

What did we find?  

There is reasonable evidence that:

  • make-up of the group has a significant effect on the outcomes.
  • small-group discussions supported by a specific programme fostering collaborative reasoning improved students' metacognitive knowledge of collaborative reasoning.  However, this did not translate into better strategies while reasoning, including when dealing with scientific evidence.

What are the implications?

  • There is no evidence that small-group discussions adversely affect students' understanding of the nature of evidence.

  • Further high-quality research is needed.

How did we get these results?

Fourteen studies were included in the in-depth review.

This summary was prepared by the EPPI-Centre

This report should be cited as: Bennett J, Lubben F, Hogarth S, Campbell B (2004) A systematic review of the use of small-group discussions in science teaching with students aged 11-18, and their effects on students’ understanding in science or attitude to science. In: Research Evidence in Education Library. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, Institute of Education, University of London. 

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