Abstract The aim of the study is to draw attention to and examine how young students (approximately 5-13 years) are involved in communication about nature, what approaches to nature are mediated in the social practices of preschool, school, and a science center, and how functional these approaches may be as providing learners with tools for making sense in other situations in everyday life and society. Empirical investigations were carried out by observations, tape recordings and video recordings of interaction in different educational contexts and presented in three studies. The first study is about a group of preschool children (5 years old) and their teacher visiting an exhibition about the water flow at a science center and the teacher communicating with the children about their visit during circle time at the preschool. The second study is about conversations about the water cycle between teachers and young students (8-10 years old) at a primary school, with a prop in the form of a photograph taken in a real rainforest. The third study is about students (12-13 years old) working in pairs in a computer-simulated micro world of ecological processes on an African savanna. Taking a sociocultural perspective, the results indicate that in all the studied contexts, the conversations between the students and teachers were characterized by being indistinct, i.e. not being conducted within a distinct discourse. The students had difficulties following the teachers’ communication strategies. It seemed to be important for the teachers that the students themselves understood what the conversation was about and to arrive at the right answer. Students’ possibility to express their knowledge is closely dependent on the adults’ strategies. The most successful strategy for students is to follow the teacher’s way of speaking. This leads to the fact that some students succeed to talk in such a way that is expected by the teacher in the conversation. When the teacher is absent the students make sense by referring to their previous experience. Without support by the teacher the students thus thematize nature on their own terms. In the investigated activities the models are handled as if being self-illustrative. Models, as such, and how they are related to what they refer to was never explained by the teachers in the studied activities
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