• physical science;
  • language of science and classrooms;
  • middle school science


In this study we present an analysis of classroom interactions initiated by students' wonderment questions. Our interest in such events arises from their potential to stimulate active intellectual engagement in classrooms, which can impact upon the subsequent development of the classroom discourse. In investigating this issue we shall address the following research question: How do student questions impact upon the teaching explanatory structure and modify the form of the ongoing classroom discourse, in selected science lessons? From data collected in a Brazilian secondary school we have selected three classroom episodes, with large differences in both the context in which the student's question emerges and in the communicative approach developed in response to it. The analysis, based on the framework proposed by Mortimer and Scott [Mortimer and Scott (2003). Meaning making in secondary science classrooms. Maidenhead: Open University Press], shows that questions made by students are important in providing feedback from students to the teacher, enabling adjustments to the teaching explanatory structure. These adjustments sometimes occur smoothly, at other times with major changes to the features of the classroom discourse, and elsewhere with misunderstanding and disagreement. The data also suggest the need to consider students' intentions and their active participation in the negotiation of both the content and structure of classroom discourse. © 2009 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 47:174–193, 2010