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Death discussion in science read-alouds: Cognitive, sociolinguistic, and moral processes



Little research has been conducted on how to address the complex topic of death when teaching science to children. The present paper addresses this issue by examining how three elementary teachers discuss the death of wild animals during science read-aloud sessions. Our findings reveal the variety of ways in which nonhuman death can be cognitively, sociolinguistically and morally organized in such contexts. In terms of cognition, animal death was conceptualized metaphorically in terms of linear or cyclic motion (SOURCE-PATH-GOAL and CYCLE image schemas). Sociolinguistically, animal death was sometimes approached as the product of an agent's action (e.g., a predator) and at other times as an agentless outcome (e.g., a biological event that simply befell upon living creatures). Lastly, natural death was presented as morally “good” (i.e., acceptable biological outcomes of life in the wild), whereas pollution-related death was organized as unnatural and morally “bad” (i.e., unacceptable loss of natural life whose occurrence students should critically question). This study highlights the centrality of metaphorical structuring to nonhuman death discussions in the science read-alouds investigated and the possible pedagogical implications of favoring the approaches described. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Res Sci Teach 51: 117–146, 2014