The social context available to science teachers is known to influence their classroom practices or pedagogical orientation. This study investigated how social context influences pedagogical orientations at three township schools in South Africa. The study employed a qualitative case-study design involving three Grade 9 Natural Sciences teachers. Data collection involved pre-lesson interviews; lesson observations using the Reformed Teaching Observation Protocol (RTOP); post-lesson interviews; and analysis of documents. Data were analysed using a constant comparative method. Findings revealed that learners’ socio-cultural practices, experiences and beliefs influenced teachers’ pedagogical orientations in two important ways. Firstly, their teaching became more process- and activity-driven. Secondly, teachers’ views about the goals of science teaching changed. Rather than a focus purely on curriculum coverage and exam preparation, building learner confidence, stimulating appreciation for the relevance of science, and motivating learners also became important. Implications drawn for in-service and pre-service teacher development programmes are discussed.