Meaning-Making in a Secondary Science Classroom: A Systemic Functional Multimodal Discourse Analysis

  • Qiuping HeEmail author
  • Gail Forey


The purpose of this chapter is to present a framework for examining meaning-making in the science classroom through a range of resources. Based on the notion of social semiotics from systemic functional linguistics, we propose a framework that examines the affordances of meaning in one mode, such as language, or gesture, or animation, and the multiplying of meaning across these modes. We argue that knowing what meaning can be afforded by a mode and the ways to communicate meaning across modes can enhance learning opportunities in the science classroom. We focus on three modes used in the science classroom, namely language, gesture, and animation, and propose a framework that helps unpack the meanings made. We draw on data collected from a 66-minute video recording of a Grade 9 class studying the process of digestion. We investigate the organization of meaning in the identified modes and the multiplying of meaning across modes in constructing explanations. While gestures and animation are found to make meaning through the logics of time and space, language plays a significant role in mediating the technicality of scientific knowledge. The findings also identified two ways of multiplying meaning across modes, namely, creating multimodal links and reiterating organizing structures. The complex mediation of meaning within each mode and across modes highlights the need for explicit instruction by the teacher to support and highlight how meaning is made in science and other teaching and learning contexts. We suggest that the findings are relevant for apprenticing learners into the world of science, and also apprenticing scientists into the world of teaching.


Systemic functional linguistics multimodal discourse analysis semiotic affordances constructing explanations 


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EnglishThe Hong Kong Polytechnic UniversityHung HomHong Kong

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