Keith Kelly looks at examples of language used in delivering questions and explanations from the area of science, covering wh- question words, statements as questions, asking for explanations, possibility and uncertainty, explaining a process and conjunction phrases.

To download the accompanying lesson plan, please click on the link to the right of the screen.

Wh- question words

question wordexample
how How does woollen clothing keep people warm?
how many How many poles does a bar magnet have?
what What would happen to a solid heated to a point where the particles begin to separate?
when When can friction be a nuisance?
where Where are the axle and fulcrum of a wheel situated?
which Which stage of the tapeworm life cycle lives inside the human?
why Why are parasites known as heterotroph feeders?


Statements as questions

choose Choose any one piece of iron from the three available.
decide Look at the picture, decide on the pros and cons of the design and then make an instrument of your own.
define Define each of the following terms: herbivore, carnivore and omnivore.
demonstrate From the information about convection currents above, suggest how you could demonstrate convection currents using the materials listed.
describe Describe the basic structure of the soap molecule.
display Explain how an iron and brass bimetallic strip would behave when heated and cooled.
identify Identify three regions in a human where first, second and third class levers are found.
prove Explain how to prove that light travels in a straight line.
show Plot a line graph to show the population size against the year.
state For each of the minerals, state one food that is a source of the mineral and the function of the mineral in the human body.


details Explain your answer and give details of what happened during the reaction.
example Name the two types of corrosion and give an example of each.
reasons State three ways in which rusting can be prevented and give reasons for your answers.
support Give support to demonstrate the idea that light travels in straight lines.


Asking for explanations

There are a number of phrases which can be placed in front of many of the examples given above in order to form the kind of spoken question you might hear in the classroom.

I don’t understand … (why parasites are considered to be heterotroph feeders).
I don’t see … .
Can / Could you explain … ?
Can you tell me why … ?
Does this mean that … ?
What does it mean when … ?
Why is it that … ?
I don’t know how to … .
Please explain how … x … is done.

Possibility and uncertainty

For suggesting future possibility

… would make / cause …: To pour water on an oil fire would just cause it to spread over a greater surface area.
… would have to …: More trees would have to be cut down with the increase in demand for homes.
… could result in / make / harm …: Additional water made during respiration could harm your body by making the blood and the cytoplasm in the cells too dilute.

Where the answer is not clear

… might cause / be caused …: Cloning is a difficult procedure and scientists are not sure of all the problems that might be caused in the body.
… may be + participle …: Large seeds in a fruit may be discarded by the animal, or small seeds may be swallowed.
… may take / result / have effects / lead to : Larger doses of the drug may have undesired effects and may even lead to death.

From the perspective of another person

Some people believe …: Some people believe that the Earth’s resources can only support a maximum of ten billion people.

Explaining a process

When …: When the refrigerator is at the required temperature, the bimetallic strip is bent so that there is a break in contact.
As soon as …: As soon as the air in the refrigerator cools to the desired termperature, the bimetallic strip curves and the contact is broken once again.
Step 1 … / First …: First, the plant material must be crushed in a mortar with methanol or alcohol.
Next … / Then … / After that … / Eventually …: Next, use an organic solvent such as methanol to wash out the ink stain.
so that: Tilt the jar so that the water moistens all the paper placed in it.
If … x …, do … y …: If one end of a metal rod is placed in a flame, after a while the entire metal rod becomes hot.

Refer to Your CLIL: Process: Science for further sequencing phrases to explain a process or how to do something.

Conjunction phrases

that is why That is why door handles are located opposite the hinges.
for this reason It is for this reason that smoking is not allowed at petrol stations.
because ‘Hidden heat’ is used because heat energy supplied to bring about the change of state is not observed as an increase in temperature.
as As the plants produce the food, they pass it down into the rhizome.
since Since they both have the same mass, the density of the boat is much less than the block.

Refer to Your CLIL: Cause and Effect: Science for more language for giving reasons.

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Explanations: Science: Lesson plan.



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