How to Encourage Kids to Make Generalizations in Science

Generalizations force kids to zero in on scientific concepts. For higher level thinking, give your science activities a twist. Begin with a conceptual question. Present a science activity. Then ask kids to make a generalization. When you use this strategy, kids discover scientific concepts themselves.

Ms. Sneed Improves Her Science Activities

In the past, Ms. Sneed taught science. In other words, she explained concepts to her students. Then they studied and took a test. Occasionally, she let them do some related activities.

But now, all of that has changed. On the advice of her mentor, Ms. Sneed has decided to improve science activities in her classroom.

After studying Appendix F of the Next Generation Science Standards, she chose to work on two science practices. This year, Ms. Sneed will no longer teach science. Instead, her class will plan and carry out investigations. Additionally, they will construct explanations.

As a first step in constructing explanations, her class will learn to make generalizations. In other words, kids will investigate and discover concepts themselves. Let’s visit the classroom as they get started.

New and Improved Light Energy Stations

Just before the bell, Ms. Sneed finished setting up the last light station. Then her class filed in. Right away, they noticed a difference in their classroom. On the side table, they saw flashlights, mirrors, and other materials. When they looked more closely, they saw materials on four other tables, carts, or counters around the room. “Hey!” said one kid. “What’s going on?”

Ms. Sneed’s face lit up with a small smile. “Science stations.”

Everyone cheered. Then they settled down for lunch count and morning announcements.

Afterward, Ms. Sneed handed out a packet of lab sheets. Next, she explained the process. “In your lab groups, you’ll move through five stations. At each, you’ll follow the lab sheet to explore one sound concept. At the top of each sheet, you’ll find a guiding question.”

As the kids shuffled through the packets, they indeed saw five guiding questions:

  • How does light travel?
  • Which materials are transparent, translucent, opaque?
  • Which materials reflect light?
  • What is refraction?
  • What is color?

“After you’ve investigated, you’ll make generalizations. That simply means that you will draw conclusions from your activities.”

With that, Ms. Sneed indicated which group should begin at which station. And away they went.

Generalizations About How Light Travels

As they worked, Ms. Sneed walked around the classroom. First, she visited a group exploring how light travels.

As directed by their lab sheet, students looked into mirrors and touched the sides of their faces. “Look,” said one child, “mirror image.”

Next, they wrote their names on slips of paper. Then they looked at their names in the mirrors. “Backward!” said one. “Upside down!” said another.

Finally, they worked together to shine a flashlight from mirror to mirror. Although it was tough to do, they finally figured out how to shine it onto a flashlight in front of a book, to two other mirrors, and onto the back of the book.

After they’d investigated, the group worked on a section called “Making Generalizations.”

“What happens when light shines into a mirror?” one student read. “I’d say it bounces back.” The other kids nodded.

“In what direction(s) does light travel?” another child read.

After a brief pause, someone said, “In a straight line!”

Again, Ms. Sneed smiled. Actually, she couldn’t believe it. As she looked around the room, she noticed that her students were totally engaged. Unbelievable. They could work on their own!

Since everyone was finishing up, she called out, “Okay, move to the next station.”

At their first light station, kids make generalizations about how light travels.
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Generalizations About Transparent, Translucent, and Opaque Objects

At that point, Ms. Sneed decided to move with the group she’d been watching. When they got to the station, they shone a flashlight on a bunch of materials, one by one. If it allowed light to pass, they wrote its name in the first column, transparent. If some light passed, translucent. And if no light passed, opaque.

The teacher decided to move on, but she knew they’d have no trouble making generalizations at the end of the lab. After all, objects that are transparent are clear.

At their second light station, kids make generalizations about transparent, translucent, and opaque objects.

Generalizations About Reflection

At the third station, another group conducted a similar investigation. They, however, shone their flashlight on an object to see if light reflected off of it. Then they wrote it in one of three columns: reflect, partially reflect, or absorb. Although they were only partway done, they were already discussing the generalization. “Things that are shiny reflect, see? And stuff that’s bumpy absorbs.”

At their third light station, kids shine a flashlight on a variety of objects. Then they categorize them by how much light they reflect. Finally, they make generalizations about the types of materials that reflect light.

Generalizations About Refraction

At the next station, kids explored refraction. First, they put a pencil into a clear cup that was partially filled with water. “Look! It’s bent!” one student cried out.

Second, they placed a penny in an empty opaque cup. They took turns backing away from the cup until the penny was no longer visible. Then one of their peers slowly poured water into the cup. Magically, the penny appeared!

Finally, they placed a drop of water on a sheet of wax paper. When they arranged it over a worksheet, the drop magnified the print!

To help kids make generalizations, this question was posed on their lab sheet: “What happens to light when it hits water?” Everyone agreed that it bent in some way.

At their fourth light station, kids investigate refraction and make generalizations.

Generalizations About Color

Finally, Ms. Sneed visited the fifth group. They were working with a prism, a CD, and bubbles. “What’s happening?” she asked.

“Rainbows!” came the response. Of course, they all wanted to show her.

“I see Roy G. Biv,” Ms. Sneed said.


“Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. The colors of the rainbow.”

After looking at the colors they’d used in the pictures on their lab sheets, they agreed.

As they finished up their lab, they too made generalizations. With no trouble, they found that light bends when coming in contact with the bubble. In turn, that caused the white light to split into colors of the rainbow.

“So,” Ms. Sneed asked, reading the last question, “what causes white light to separate into different colors?”

“Refraction!” came the chorus.

Ms. Sneed’s mouth dropped open.

“Don’t look surprised, Ms. Sneed. After all, we just finished the station on refraction.”

At the fifth light station, kids explore color with a CD and a prism. They make generalizations about separation of white light.

Enjoy Teaching – with Kids in the Driver’s Seat!

Now the teacher was beaming. Who knew that stations would be such a hit? And furthermore, why did she always feel the need to be the “sage on the stage”? When she put kids in the driver’s seat, everything was better. First, they became engaged. Second, they learned concepts firsthand. And heck, they even picked up vocabulary better. Last but not least, when she let kids make their own generalizations, she enjoyed teaching even more!

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