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Effective Practical Work in the Science Classroom

I have spent an awful of time planning and delivering practical Science over the years to a wide variety of pupils of all ages in all areas of Science KS3/4 and Physics at KS5. I think the key to most of it is meticulous planning and your understanding of what is happening.

You can “wing” some things but the best practical really does need to be tested and planned.

I have got a series of articles and resources to share here. There are a few which I have used to help train my own department and are based on Youtube Videos. You can use the links and think about how the examples have gone and then apply to your own practice.

A final comment on these ideas is to ensure that you actually don’t make the practical too hard. I think the idea that pupils struggle through it is not always productive. A practical which confirms what you already know is not a bad thing, but doing that all the time would be!


Effective Practical Work in the Science Classroom – Ian Richardson

This video was originally delivered at the National Science Learning Centre in York in January 2013 by Ian Richardson, former HMI for Ofsted. It is part of a range of videos and presentations discussing the importance of effective practical work in the classroom. His key points  were…

  • Should be part of weekly experience and not just bolted on after the event
  • It is clear to Ofsted inspectors if they have not been used to it
  • Good Practice: North Derbyshire – previous lessons researched, designed the exp, then captured data on laptops. Then pupils presented to rest of classmates. Data shared and discussed! Picked out anomalous data in discussion. Pupils motivated
  • Poor Practice: Topic of macerating beetroot. Worksheets didactic, vocab not understood, worksheets just fill in the key words! Pupils did not know what they were really doing! Then teacher gave answers to fill in. What had they learned?  Nothing!


Teachers TV: Secondary Science – Reactive Elements with Nigel Reagan

This video was originally from Warden Park School (Teachers TV)

The Key message is to be….

  • Clear on what they are learning
  • How they will demonstrate that learning
  • Differentiated to the class
  • Risk assessment must be done


Key things to look for in the lesson….


  • Recap questions


Demonstration / Practical

  • Goggles + screen
  • Open questions – then targeted
  • Calm/ relaxed / ring of smoke!
  • Class is quiet – interactive
  • Planning for their equipment



  • Clear diagram on board?
  • Leading to a question at the end


  • Don’t play safe
  • Try and encourage group work and discussion
  • Try and adapt plan as you go!


Lesson observation: Year 10 Science KS4 – Tribal Education


This is a short clip about the impact of heat and oxygen on a magnesium strip. I critically though about what I liked about the lesson and what I did not like so much…

What I did  like….

  • Clear instructions
  • Demonstrated
  • Asked for prediction before practical
  • Written questions structured and differentiated.
  • 1-2-1 questions good – happy, prompts, repetition, then building in approach. Then more prompts, and left with another question!
  • Demonstration set left pupils to see on projector!
  • Extra safety tips before starting!
  • Good repetition for flame check!


Improvement Points….

  • Introduction could have had some developmental questions



Teachers TV: Taking Risk with Ofsted – Practical Maths (Science – parallels)


Two Ofsted inspectors return to schools they’ve already inspected to give teachers tips on how they can take more risks in the classroom, in this whole-school video for secondary schools. The inspection process has changed dramatically and now concentrates on senior management teams and their self-evaluation. But inspectors want to see teachers being more imaginative and adventurous.


Chosen Hill (0 to 10.26 mins) – Maths Practical Y7

A specialist technology school on the outskirts of Gloucester, a Maths teacher tries out a lesson about graphs with a Year 7 class. Unusually, three-quarters of the lesson is spent on a practical activity. The inspector’s verdict is surprising.

Watch the Starter Activity (4mins).

  • Systematic check?
  • Could he differentiate that?

What issues were brought up in Main Activity (5mins)

  • Range of ability in practical
  • Axis construction – did he plan ahead for the needs of all?
  • Too much time on practical.
  • Not enough “Maths in the lesson”
  • Some could do 1 prac / some 2 – SPLIT lesson into two


Walton High (15 mins to  mins)  Y9 Science Metal Displacements

At Walton High in Milton Keynes, newly qualified teachers (NQTs) talk openly about their experiences and a Year 9 science class ends with a rowdy plenary, but it gets top marks from the watching inspector. 

Watch the Starter Activity (16mins). What do you think?

  • Did he take enough time over aims?
  • Can you remember what they are?

Thermite Reaction (17mins)

  • Targeted question initially, but then quickly moved to another student?
  • Was this targeted, did all get a chance to answer?
  • Did he develop any more, before rushing into the reaction?
  • Screen used, no goggles for him or front row! No warning, you may need to shield eyes!

Practical 19 mins

  • Lesson plan detailed not required – if you “know what you are doing”. So planning must have taken place!
  • Googles warning given.
  • Over planning is counterproductive – go with flow


Plenary 21.30 mins

  • Higher or Lower “game”.
  • Voting – maybe use the whiteboards


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