This paper deals with a theoretical mechanism for learning and a methodological approach for analyzing meaning making in classroom talk and action. It examines the potential of the approach for illuminating learning on a discursive level, i.e., how discourses change and how individuals become participants of new practices. Our approach involves a high-resolution analysis of how meaningful relations are built in encounters between individuals and between individuals and the world. The approach is based mainly on the work of the later Wittgenstein, but also on pragmatism and sociocultural research. To demonstrate how our approach can be used, we analyze what university students learn during a practical on insects. We specifically demonstrate how the encounters with physical pinned insects contribute to the meaning students make and how these encounters interact with other experiences during laboratory work. © 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Sci Ed86:601–623, 2002; Published online in Wiley InterScience ( DOI 10.1002/sce.10036