CSTA Classroom Science

Strategies for Supporting Students to Engage in Scientific Argumentation

By Jamie N. Mikeska, ETS, Senior Research Scientist, K-12 Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Center

Engaging students in argumentation is one of the scientific practices essential to helping students develop their ability to participate productively in scientific sensemaking. 

Scientific argumentation involves students in generating and responding to scientific claims and evidence-based reasoning. While there are many ways for science teachers to provide opportunities for their students to engage in scientific argumentation as part of classroom learning activities, facilitating high-quality, argumentation-focused discussions is one of the easiest and most accessible ways to do so.

When facilitating argumentation-focused discussions, it is important for teachers to attend to and provide opportunities for their students to engage in two related, yet distinct, components of scientific argumentation: (a) argument construction and (b) argument critique. Argument construction involves students in using evidence and reasoning to construct, defend, and/or revise their own and others’ scientific claims. Argument critique focuses on opportunities for students to compare and critique various claims and evidence-based reasoning, as well as try to persuade others as they work to build towards consensus in explaining scientific phenomena. There are a variety of teaching moves that teachers can use to promote their students’ engagement in these two aspects of scientific argumentation during small or whole class discussions (Mikeska & Howell, 2020; Mikeska & Lottero-Perdue, 2022).

Types of Prompts

Argumentation Teaching Moves
(Asking students to...)

Argument Construction Prompts

Reference data or observations


Draw upon one’s personal experiences

  Use prior knowledge
Argument Critique Prompts Agree/disagree and/or explain their reason for agreeing/disagreeing
  Consider the relevance of specific evidence
  Question each other
  Provide evidence or explain their reasoning
  Consider a specific example
  Share their thoughts in response to generic teacher prompts

When planning to engage students in argument construction and critique, teachers can first consider their goals for the discussion that they plan to facilitate, as well as their students’ previous experiences and their initial ideas related to the scientific phenomenon being investigated.

  • Teachers can think about how their students are currently making sense of and understanding the scientific phenomenon under study and consider the strengths of students’ ideas individually and collectively and potential areas for growth.
  • They can also consider how their students could take on specific roles during the discussion, such as some students being focused on engaging in argument construction while others address the argument critique aspect more directly.
  • Then, teachers can think about various teaching moves they might want to use to facilitate productive student engagement in argument construction and critique during the discussion.
  • Additionally, teachers can determine when and how will they want their students to share their initial claims and evidence-based reasoning with each other?
  • How might they encourage their students to compare and critique ideas or agree and disagree with each other respectfully?

Finally, teachers might also consider various ways that they can develop the conversation. This may include attention to how they plan to encourage students to modify their initial ideas, build towards consensus, or use students’ previous experiences or knowledge as a resource. Teachers’ careful planning and use of a variety of argument construction and critique prompts are both important for the successful facilitation of argumentation-focused discussions in K-12 classrooms.

Mikeska, J.N., & Howell, H. (2020). Simulations as practice-based spaces to support elementary
science teachers in learning how to facilitate argumentation-focused science discussions. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 57(9), 1356-1399. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea.21659

Mikeska, J. N. & Lottero‐Perdue, P. S. (2022). How preservice and in‐service elementary
teachers engage student avatars in scientific argumentation within a simulated classroom environment. Science Education, 106(4), 980-1009. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.21726 



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