p4c logo

Part Two: What kind of argumentative artefacts?

WHAT KINDS OF OPTIONS are there for argumentative artefacts that could be used with pupils? Here are some examples with brief comments on each.

The Lipman Novels

The ‘philosophical novels’ written by Matthew Lipman in the 1970s and 1980s were a series of dialogues and arguments woven into stories about a group of pupils and their teachers living and learning together. They were, arguably, the most innovative aspect of the whole philosophy for children initiative. However, in my view, Lipman places too much emphasis on the ‘modelling’ aspect of the novels and not enough on enlivening the arguments. He has his characters modelling ways of thinking, ways of behaving, ways of using language, and ways of addressing others. In the end, the modelling, though well meant, smothers the living dialogue – the argumentative interaction between the characters. Nevertheless, the novels remain an outstanding pedagogical achievement and a necessary reference point for all those who are serious about philosophy for children. A passage from one of the novels I adapted for Readers’ Theatre is available on P4C.COM

Philosophy for Teens

There is a book called ‘Philosophy for Teens: Questioning Life’s Big Ideas by Sharon Kaye and Paul Thomson (Prufrock Press, 2006). It uses dialogues as the starting point for each its themes and ‘big questions’. The problem here is that the dialogues are rather ‘bloodless’. The teenage characters have no substance; they are simply mouthpieces for arguments devised by the adult writers. There is little humour that is not forced.

‘Good’ arguments and dialogues

What, then, would make a good argument for use as a stimulus. It would need to be engaging either by using humour, presenting characters who ‘come alive’ in the writing, or by an imaginative use of ‘devices’ such as going back in time or using a format like a discovered exchange of letters. A dialogue such as ‘Granny and the Goldfish’ uses humour in the choice of examples and is engaging even though we know little about the characters. However, any good dialogue would need to be open enough so that listeners would feel stimulated to carry it on in their own way. A dialogue in which one argument overpowered all the others would be neither engaging nor useful for enquiry.

‘Granny and the Goldfish’ is part of a set of dialogues by Jane Pascal. The rest are available HERE

Resources on P4C.COM that present arguments in dialogues or stories

  • ‘I got a right’. A story in the tradition of Matthew Lipman. It involves two young people reasoning together about their experiences, trying to make sense of them, and trying to figure out how the ideas of ‘rights’ and related concepts apply to their own lives.
  • ‘Research Groups: Louis Pasteur.’ A script in six parts with arguments raising issues about causation, fame, knowledge, ethics, discovery, science and animal rights.
  • Scripts and Dialogues. Have a look at this section of P4C.COM other scripts containing arguments.

Children writing dialogues

Here is a dialogue written and performed by pupils as part or a project I was involved in for Open Futures. A year four class were discussing how to care for their garden. They thought about killing slugs to protect lettuces. Then they wondered. And then they wrote a dialogue containing an argument between imaginary slugs and lettuces and filmed it.

Argumentative provocation and one-sided arguments.

The teacher, in role, prepares an argument to put to pupils. Pupils respond, the teacher introduces new arguments and so on. If the pupils are not able to come up with sufficient arguments against, the teacher could use a device like having a letter and saying: ‘someone wrote to me saying such and such. What do you think?

Alternatively, Present one side of an argument and ask pupils for questions and/or arguments in support or against. If it is the latter, then the written argument and the pupils’ responses could stand as a stimulus.

Juxtaposition as argument.

Just find two contrasting arguments about a particular topic and display them side by side. Ask for comments and questions.

Brief arguments.

Rather than trying to write an extended argument, simply compose one or two exchanges. You could focus the exchanges on arguments you particularly want the pupils to consider or on particular argument ‘moves’ you want to draw to their attention. If you split an enquiry over two days and use the second one for dialogue, this ‘brief argument’ strategy may be possible and productive. You could introduce your arguments at any time, either during the children’s dialogue or after, as a follow-up.

Collections of children’s thoughts

Collect some of the various opinions and reasons pupils give in an oral dialogue and display them side by side. Ask for comments, questions and further arguments from them. Ask them to write new ‘brief arguments’ (as above) to add to the display. Keeping an enquiry going in this way provides a space for deeper and more persistent thinking.

THIS AUDIO-REPORT ON FRIENDSHIP from the BBC learning zone could be used as a stimulus and as a model. Children could be asked to record other children’s views on a topic they think is important. Do any of the views seem to be at odds? Could children they envisage situations in which it would not be possible to follow all the advice given in interviews? Pupils could be asked to create short arguments based on the selections presented in an edited audio.


Arguments can be embedded in scenarios. Pupils might be invited to play a role and consider the arguments in that role. This has certain similarities to the ‘mantle of the expert’ approach of Dorothy Heathcote and her admirers. On P4C.COM ‘The Nano-Conscience‘ is such a scenario

Readers theatre.

Readers’ Theatre is a set of simple strategies to perform texts. It is a good way of bringing written arguments to life. Using it may help to counter the idea that arguments and texts in general are less engaging than pictures or videos.


No account yet? Register