Developing metacognition in science class

Developing metacognition in science class

Metacognition works best when it is taught and applied within a specific subject. That is because what may be an effective strategy in one lesson may be different for another.

This blog takes a quick look at how science teachers can best help their students develop their metacognition, but many of those tips can be adapted to your specific subject.

Build up diagrams bit by bit

Diagrams are often an effective way of demonstrating new concepts in science.

However, when using diagrams, science teachers should try and avoid immediately showing students a completed version. That is because research has shown that learning is much greater if teachers themselves draw the diagram and build it up gradually, explaining to students the different layers and functions as they go.

Showing the construction of the diagram helps enhance students’ metacognitive skills, as it not only facilitates an improvement in their conceptual understanding of the subject, but more specifically, it allows teachers to talk through the different thought processes students should use when they look at each of the different parts of the model.

Create metacognitive conflict

Metacognitive conflict is a process where students are encouraged to consider their perceptions surrounding what it means to be a good science learner, before having these ideas discussed (and potentially challenged) by their teacher, causing them to reflect on their processes and methods of learning.

Research suggests that this metacognitive conflict can be initiated by asking students to note down what good science learning looks like for them. This allows them to conceptualise what they consider to be proficient techniques for science learning, whilst also giving teachers a good opportunity to challenge their students’ ideas and encourage them to consider new concepts.

Provide model answers (and discuss them)

Students can better understand the components of a perfect answer if their teacher shows them models of what good and bad answers look like. One way to do this is to get students to try and decipher any differences between the answers alone, before the teacher facilitates a whole class discussion. If teachers are able to take students through this evaluative processes in subject lessons rather than in discrete thinking skills classes, students are increasingly likely to use such techniques, because they become more aware of exactly how they can be employed.

Concept mapping

Concept mapping is a process which allows students to organise their knowledge surrounding a specific topic. It starts by focusing on the main idea, then narrowing down into smaller ones or more specific topics. This helps them make links between different topic materials.


To enhance their students’ metacognitive skills, science teachers should give students time to apply the Plan-Monitor-Evaluate approach to each task they are set. Research has found that students show greater improvements in their learning when they are given a specific self-regulation structure to use.

The first step of this approach involves planning, which means students have to choose an appropriate strategy by considering questions such as “what do I want to achieve?” and “have I completed a similar task before?”. Students are then required to monitor their progress by considering whether they are on the right track and by asking for assistance should they require it. The final step requires students to evaluate the task, by asking themselves what went well and identifying some improvements they could make next time.

Final Thought

Incorporating metacognitive skills into science lessons gives teachers a more effective and subtle way of helping students develop important knowledge and skills.

However, as with all new skills, metacognitive abilities are not developed overnight, meaning that teachers need to be patient and give students the opportunity to practice and experiment with the strategies mentioned above, in order to find the most effective for them.

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