Conceptual Blending Monitoring Students’ Use of Metaphorical Concepts to Further the Learning of Science


The aim of this study is to explore how tertiary science students’ use of metaphors in their popular science article writing may influence their understanding of subject matter. For this purpose, six popular articles written by students in physics or geology were analysed by means of a close textual analysis and a metaphor analysis. In addition, semi-structured interviews were conducted with the students. The articles showed variation regarding the occurrence of active (non-conventional) metaphors, and metaphorical concepts, i.e. metaphors relating to a common theme. In addition, the interviews indicated that students using active metaphors and metaphorical concepts reflected more actively upon their use of metaphors. These students also discussed the possible relationship between subject understanding and creation of metaphors in terms of conceptual blending. The study suggests that students’ process of creating metaphorical concepts could be described and visualised through integrated networks of conceptual blending. Altogether, the study argues for using conceptual blending as a tool for monitoring and encouraging the use of adequate metaphorical concepts, thereby facilitating students’ opportunities of understanding and influencing the learning of science.

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We would like to thank Anders Eriksson, Associate professor in Rhetoric, for valuable discussions during the study and helpful comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Many thanks to Jennifer Lööfgren as well, Genombrottet, Faculty of Engineering, Lund University, for valuable comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. Lastly, we also thank Professor Helena Alexanderson, Professor in Quaternary Sciences, and Ashley Gumsley, Doctoral student in Lithosphere and Biosphere Science, for clarifying comments on geology content in the surveyed students’ texts and interview answers.

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Correspondence to Alexandra Fredriksson.

Appendix: interview questions

Appendix: interview questions

Below all interview questions are presented.

The asterisk indicates that the question was further specified to fit the interviewee regarding his or her field as well as degree project.

  1. 1.

    What do you think makes a good popular science text?

    • For whom is popular science beneficial?

    • Would you say that physics/geology* is an abstract topic? How, in what ways?

    • Do you believe that it is sufficient to explain a phenomenon in scientific terms?

      • Ifno", what more is required from a linguistic point of view?

  2. 2.

    Can you, in as much detail as possible, tell me how you experienced the task of writing popular scientifically about your area of expertise?

    • Did you experience any differences between writing science versus writing popular science?

    • Has your article made you look at your topic differently/from a different perspective?

    • Did you find it difficult to explain any phenomena in your article with everyday words?

      • If “yes," tell me more / why do you believe that is?

      • If “no", do you believe that any reader will understand all that you have written about your topic in this article?

  3. 3.

    How did you come up with this article? How did you reason?

    • In what ways do you concretise your subject in the article?

      • Can you give examples?

    • How did you go about creating this expression? How did you reason in order to result in “this" specific expression*?

      • Was this the first expression or did you reason about and try other ideas or expressions?

    • What do you think would happen to the text if you were to remove expression X/technical term Z*?

    • Do you see any difference between metaphor X and Y metaphor*?

  4. 4.

    How has your understanding been affected by the writing of the popular science article?

    • Is there a difference between your understanding of your subject before compared to after you wrote your article?

      • Has your understanding deepened? Do you feel that it is easier for you to talk about your topic now than before – both internally with yourself and when you reason, and when you're talking about your topic with others?

    • Do you feel that you remember your topic better when having put it in terms outside of the subject-specific area?

    • Did you see your area of expertise just as a physical/geological phenomenon or you could think and talk about it in other ways than in physical/geological terminology?

  5. 5.

    (i) The interviewer introduces the concept of Conceptual Blending to the student:

    • Conceptual blending is a way to describe how sense making works. The theory is based on the premise that, when dealing with something unknown, one uses and compares that with what is already known (existing knowledge and prior experiences) in order to easier understand and relate to it. By means of finding similarities and differences between the things that are compared, we easier understand the new and unknown. Perhaps you explain: 1) a parallelogram as a rectangle that someone has pushed on so it has fallen slightly forward to the side; 2) the gravitation as something that pulls things downwards so they do not levitate; 3) a UFO as a flying bisque; 4) or a leverage (physics) as a seesaw.

  6. 6

    (ii) In retrospect, can you – in any way – relate how you created your article and your expressions to the theory of conceptual blending?

    • Did you create your expressions based on already existing mental images?

    • Did you invent the expressions yourself?

    • Would you say that the Conceptual Blending helps you to explain how you managed to come up with your various metaphorical formulations?

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Fredriksson, A., Pelger, S. Conceptual Blending Monitoring Students’ Use of Metaphorical Concepts to Further the Learning of Science. Res Sci Educ 50, 917–940 (2020).

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  • Natural science
  • Education
  • Metaphorical concepts
  • Conceptual blending
  • Metaphor analysis
  • Semi-structured interview
  • Metaphor
  • Popular science writing
  • Learning