p4c logo


The Believing and Doubting Game was invented by Peter Elbow (‘Writing Without Teachers’, Oxford University Press, 1974). It can be used in writing or spoken dialogue. It involves the thinker in being, in turn, open to ideas but also critical of them. Students’ views are stretched towards new ideas and perhaps the game helps them to overcome their natural resistances to views different to their own. It can work in the following ways (adapted from Elbow’s version).


  1. A view is advanced by pupils or the teacher. In turn, the whole group works to support the view. Members try to come up with the best justifications for the view they can. The are ‘believers’. Then all members of the group turn into ‘doubters’ and try to list the best reasons to doubt the view in question, including imagining better alternative views.
  2. After the whole group has worked together, individuals can then study the points raised, and seek clarification and understanding by asking questions. Then they come to their own view and give reasons. The reasons might involve an explanation of which justifications, doubts and criticisms were most important to them.

NB. Used in this way, the game is a form of parallel thinking similar to Edward De Bono’s activities: ‘Six Thinking Hats’ and ‘PMI’ (Plus, Minus and Interesting). One advantage of such activities is that they delay the influence on the outcome of an argument of dominant, respected or articulate members on the community. They are asked to put their abilities to use trying to support an argument other than their own. The game can take the pressure off one member of the group who is arguing alone for a point of view.The Believing and Doubting Game could also be used in short small-group breakouts from whole-group discussion.


Another advantage of this activity is that the reasons can be recorded so all members of the group (or a whole class) can see them. They are not analysed, challenged and evaluated straight away. They are simply explained and listed. Later, the group can go back over their reasons and say which ones they want to challenge and why. They may cite lack of relevance or evidence, for example, or they may challenge assumptions contained in the reason. The process of gathering and recording in writing facilitates the process of analysis and challenge.

When reading texts, students are encouraged to read first as believers (wanting to understand fully what a writer has to say) and then as doubters (with their own flow of critical questions in response to the text).

Writers are encouraged to read their own writing as they would read texts written by others – first, by making their own arguments and perspectives as strong as possible and second, by doubting and questioning what they write in order to uncover weaknesses and imagine responses from other readers with different perspectives.


No account yet? Register