How science can help child-led enquiry?

    Published: 11 October 2016

    Through science, children should develop an excitement and curiosity about the world around them and have the opportunity to raise their own questions. One area that teachers often struggle with is how to provide opportunities for children to ask questions and make decisions in enquiry.

    This will be a theme at the Herts for Learning Primary Science Conference this year, which is being held on 19th October at the STEM Learning Centre, Bayfordbury, but here are four suggestions to get you started.

    Start from what the children know

    Children arrive at the classroom door with a wide range of scientific knowledge gathered from their personal experiences, discussions with families and, more increasingly, TV programmes. For example, Year 1 teachers sometimes find that children have already experienced the terms carnivore, herbivore and omnivore from learning about dinosaurs. It is therefore important to start any topic by finding out what the children know and what they would like to know, and this should then feed into planning for the topic.

    There are several possible approaches, but to do this effectively it is important to bring the existing knowledge to the forefront of the children’s minds, stimulate their imaginations and get them talking. This could involve a wide range of thought-provoking activities, including watching a short video clip, giving a question that promotes discussion, carrying out a short enquiry, or drawing or making a model of what they think something looks like.

    For example, you could ask the children:

    • If you could be a bird what type of bird would you be, and why?
    • Draw what you think happens to food in a body outline
    • Make a model digestive system out of balloons, straws, tights, plasticine, etc
    • Draw what you think the solar system looks like
    • Sort these animals in any way you want
    • Which is the odd one out? (e.g. out of battery, bulb, wire)
    • Watch a James Bond parachute (before discussing forces)

    Use a demonstration to spark discussion

    A great way to get children to think of questions they could investigate is to show them a demonstration or, even better, give them something to experiment with.


    • Ask children to drop a cupcake case, make observations and then think about questions they could investigate
    • Ask children to make a paper aeroplane, then launch it safely and think about questions they could investigate
    • Get children to make cup phones, try them and then come up with questions they could investigate
    • Ask children to find out whether an orange floats, then ask them to peel it and test again
    • Ask children to think about what questions this raises

    Remember: if you want children to come up with a question they could investigate or make decisions on, it is best to keep the enquiry simple!

    Focus on one skill area at a time

    Although it is important for children to experience the whole enquiry process each time so that they understand the steps involved, they do not necessarily need to write up all of these stages. It might be appropriate at times to make group predictions, or review results as part of a class discussion. Teachers can then focus on asking pupils to individually write up the parts of the enquiry process they want to assess. Schools that are taking this on board have found the quality of specific skill areas, like making prediction or conclusions, has greatly improved and they are able to focus marking on developing specific skills.

    Try the tasks in the Primary Science Package

    Herts for Learning has created a package of resources that help schools to feel confident in securing and judging the progress of children in science and identify their next steps. Within the package there is at least one working-scientifically assessment task for each topic. These tasks are easy to resource and manage and have been designed to be as open as possible, allowing children to make decisions in enquiries and think about how they might present results.

    The package is available at a one-off cost of £150. Many schools have also found it useful to purchase a twilight session with the package to explore how to use the materials effectively, and there is currently a promotion on the cost of the package and a twilight of £410 (normal price £460).

    For further information contact us on 01438 845111 or email

    The Primary Science Package can be purchased on our online shop.