In the second part of her article on investigations in CLIL, Jean Brewster considers typical stages in an investigation, different types of exercise, some investigative ideas and how to evaluate.

What are the stages of an investigation?

The stages of a typical science investigation are shown in Fig. 1 below, but they will be similar for investigations in other subjects. These stages can be linked to the range of process skills shown in Figs 1 and 2 of Investigating investigations in CLIL: Part 1.

Fig. 1 Stages of a typical maths/science investigation

Start from an interesting topic /issue. Aside from curriculum requirements, the context for this should ideally have everyday relevance or intrinsic appeal to students, although over-stressing the ‘everyday’ aspect may harm the development of some concepts.
Pose interesting, relevant questions. Narrow the questions down to those that are mathematically/scientifically feasible and that demonstrate the most logical method. Students can suggest their own questions while teachers help learners to refine and improve these.
Plan and set up the investigation ensuring it is a fair test. Ensure students discuss which variables will remain the same and which will change and why. Thinking/writing frames could include statements like this:
what we want to find out
what we will observe or measure
what we will keep the same
what we will change
what we think will happen
Develop hypotheses and predictions. Students can be encouraged to write hypotheses and predictions down with helpful structures such as:
We think X will happen because …
The X might … because …
Maybe all of them will/are going to …
When teaching the topic Floating and Sinking, for example, use a Venn diagram to show objects which might sink on the left, objects which will float on the right, with a not sure list of objects in the middle.
Observe, collect and represent data. Use a range of graphic organizers, especially labelled diagrams, charts, tables and graphs.
Interpret data and findings; review results. Students might be given a writing frame which includes statements such as:
what we predicted
what we found
how we checked our results
what we think our results mean
Communicate findings verbally or in writing. Talk or write about your findings using graphic organizers such as a pie chart, line graph, or poster with labelled drawings or diagrams and some notes.
Evaluate procedures, results and conclusions. See Figs. 3 and 4 for monitoring and evaluating below.
Devise new investigations. As students become more familiar with the format of investigations they can be encouraged to set their own questions, set up fair tests, plan variables, record, interpret and present findings.

When supporting students to cope with these stages, the teacher might like, first of all, to model or explain them using an interesting investigation. This can be discussed and followed up with a range of exercises and activities which encourage students to become familiar with key terms, such as evidence, fair test, predictions, variables, results, reasons and conclusions, followed up by a range of exercises where the learners develop further their listening, speaking reading and writing skills. These could include the ‘usual suspects’ such as listening/reading to match terms with definitions, matching stages of an investigation with linked questions, sequencing stages of investigations or talking/writing by filling gaps at word, phrase or sentence level or using writing frames to write up results.

Exercise 1, below, is an example of a matching exercise where typical questions are linked to suggested stages of an investigation (or vice versa), followed by a sequencing exercise where these stages are placed in order. It could be used with upper primary or lower secondary students. The example shows the completed exercise – the learners would have a jumbled version to correct. These headings and questions can then be used as a thinking or writing frame when conducting and reporting on the investigation. They are also a useful prompt when learners are designing their own investigations.

Exercise 1 Matching stages in an investigation with appropriate questions

StageQuestions to ask
Planning What do I want to find out?
What is my question, my aim?
Resources What will I need?
Method What steps will I use? How can I show this in a diagram?
Fair test What variables will I keep the same?
Variables What variables am I going to change?
Prediction What do I think will happen?
Results What happened? How can I show this using graphic organizers such as a diagram, graph or table?
Conclusion What is the answer to my question?
Was my prediction correct? If so, why? If not, why not?
Evaluation How could I improve my investigation? Is there anything I would change; the question, the resources, the variables?
Design Can I think of another investigation I want to carry out? Can I plan it out in detail?

Exercise 2 is another matching exercise, this time at a higher secondary level that allows students to become more familiar with more complex types of variable which the teacher has previously introduced. Learners need to become familiar with terms like dependent/independent, input/output, discrete/continuous and controlled/derived. Their understanding will grow and become more refined as they move on to more complex investigations.

Exercise 2 Matching types of variable with their descriptions (some descriptions refer to more than one type of variable)

Type of variableDescription
Independent variables

Input variables

Dependent variables

Derived variables

Output variables

Discrete variables

Continuous variables

Controlled variables

These are calculated from actual measurements you have taken.

These change as a result of what you do.

These can take only certain values – e.g. big/small, black/blue.

These are chosen as the thing you will change.

These must be kept the same/constant if the experiment is to be fair.

These must be measured and can take a range of values.

There has been a tendency to provide extensive support for the different stages of an investigation, where, for example, supportive writing frames are frequently used. These provide valuable scaffolding but if investigations are to be more than mere ‘recipe following’ the learners must know what to look out for in an investigation, be involved in their planning and have a sense of purpose.

Using graphic organizers and writing frames

Graphic organizers, often in the form of flow charts and tables for recording results or tick charts and Venn diagrams for predicting, help primary learners to follow the main steps of an investigation. The version below would be used for understanding how some materials change when they are heated. The simple gap-filling sentences reinforce the conclusions.

Fig. 2 Using a graphic organizer and gap-filling

Type of materialIs it a solid or a liquid?What happens when it is heated? (My prediction)What actually happened?Was my prediction right?
Egg (picture)        


When I heat an egg it changes from a _______________ to a  _______________.

When I heat some chocolate it changes from a  _______________ to a  _______________.

Today, I have learned that when I heat a liquid it always/sometimes  _______________.

Today, I have learned that when I heat a solid it does/doesn’t  _______________.

Writing frames provide a thinking guide so that students know what to focus on in each stage of their writing. The two examples given below focus on two different stages: planning and reviewing results. These are common to many science courses, for example, Explore Science (Heinemann) and can be used for any topic. 

Fig. 3 Examples of writing frames for investigation stages

Writing Frame: Planning stage
Our challenge
We want to ...
What we want to find out:

What we will observe or measure:

What we will keep the same:

What we will change:

What we think will happen:

Words to use:


Writing Frame: Reviewing results stage
Our challenge
We want to ...
What we predicted:

What we found:

How we checked our results:

What we think our results mean:

Words to use:

Ideas for investigations

These form part of the curriculum for the different subjects and can be found on many websites and subject reference or course books. There are far too many to list here but you might like to look at some of the websites below for ideas.
Very useful for all subjects
Very useful for primary; all subjects
Useful for primary; all subjects
Useful for primary and secondary; science

Monitoring and evaluating investigations

This section briefly considers how teachers can encourage monitoring and self-evaluation of their learners’ investigation skills. It also asks teachers to reflect on and evaluate their own teaching of investigations. In the first instance, the learners might be in a science lesson, checking aspects of resistance using a pre-decided amount of plasticine which they mould into different shapes and then drop into a tank of water. The learners make predictions about which shape might sink to the bottom of the tank the fastest. They are expected to think about variables, time the descent of the shapes, check their predictions, draw conclusions and write up the details of the investigation. Fig. 4 below might trigger some ideas for a self-evaluation checklist for secondary learners. This could then be discussed in pairs or with the whole class afterwards.

Fig. 4 Self-evaluation checklist

I have a hypothesis I want to investigate.    
I have a list of resources I need.    
I have written about or drawn my method to show how I am going to investigate.    
I have kept at least one variable the same but have changed other variables.    
I have made a prediction.    
I have recorded my results.    
I have made a conclusion for the results and linked it back to my prediction.    
I have used scientific/mathematical/etc. vocabulary.    

Finally, for his or her self-assessment, the teacher might like to reflect on issues such as the interest shown by the pupils and the ease or accuracy with which they completed it. If the students did not seem very interested, the whole investigation may have to be changed or perhaps only part of it, for example, the lead-in. Would it be possible to use a film clip or real-life context to introduce the concept? The level of difficulty will also become clear. Were the concepts too difficult or unfamiliar? Do some parts need to be supported, illustrated in various ways or explained more? Is the work too easy - does it need to be more challenging or allow for some creativity on the part of the students? The checklist below might provide some useful starting points. It is for teachers of upper primary level students or lower secondary students.

Fig. 5. Criteria for evaluating investigations at primary/early secondary level

CriteriaYes/ NoSuggestions for improvement
Did the investigation provide activities of interest to both boys and girls?    
Did it link to learners’ everyday experience or familiar concepts?    
Did it have a clear purpose and focus?    
Was it suitable for different levels of attainment/ was it accessible to all?    
Did the learners interact with real materials?    
Did it help students understand the concept(s)? Was it too complex/too simple/misleading?    
Did they have opportunities to develop/refine their ideas and concepts?    
Did they have opportunities to develop process/investigative skills?    
Did they have opportunities to develop appropriate scientific attitudes?    
Did they have opportunities to work co-operatively and share ideas in a supportive classroom climate?    


The ability for students to develop concepts and skills through investigations and for teachers to scaffold students’ appropriate learning is crucial. Through careful consideration and planning this challenging task might even become enjoyable!

References/Useful reading

Harlen, W. & Qualter, A. (2007). The Teaching of Science in Primary Schools. (4th edition) London: David Fulton.

Lievesley, T. et al. (2003). Exploring Science. Oxford: Heinemann.

Littledyke, M. (1998). ‘Constructivist ideas about learning’ in M. Littledyke and L. Huxford (eds.) Teaching the Primary Curriculum for Constructive Learning. London: David Fulton.

Ross. K., Lakin, L. & Callaghan, P. (2004). Teaching Secondary Science. (2nd edition). London: David Fulton.