Homeschooling Pre-Kindergarten Teaching Methods

Teaching Children to Argue in Science

Children, in most preschools, are afforded unique opportunities to learn in relaxed and fun ways. Science learning can specifically benefit from this relaxed environment and as teachers we can tap into this particular environment. Specifically, we can intentionally teach skills and practices related to productive ways to engage in arguments. Intentional talk or discourse, in the context of science, is the ability to engage in evidence-based positive discussions. Although arguing is typically seen as a negative activity, we can shift this paradigm into a positive action. In fact, educational researchers have noticed that addressing elements of argumentation in formal learning environments can help students (NRC, 2012). That is, teaching and learning practices associated with argumentation (when done well) can help children develop their cognitive, physical and emotional domains. In addition, children that engage in positive arguments will most likely be better equipped for planning and carrying out investigations that are evidence-based. And, of course, these benefits ultimately are paramount to well adjusted and productive citizens that are better equipped to deal with disagreements in a plethora of contexts.

In this blog post, I dive into the first element of how to help young children argue. It is my hope, that whether you are a parent or a teacher you can get some ideas on how to incorporate the elements that lead children to productively argue. Since there are many nuances when it comes to teaching how to argue, I have divided this article into a series of blog posts so we have time to “digest” and exchange ideas.

Here it is! The first component of helping young children to argue is to is to recognize good and robust statements. I mean, those beyond the stereotypical ones that are full of opinions or personal ideologies. What can be identified as a robust statement may you ask?

Robust statements (in science) are those that are:

  1. clear
  2. contain a testable idea
  3. are not opinion based
  4. provide clear reasoning

Exactly how we help young children recognize robust statements? I’m glad you are asking. First, we must help children become proficient in asking and answering questions. Only then their ability to effectively argue can occur.

10 Reasons Why Teaching How to Ask Questions is Important

  1. Children acquire diverse and robust vocabulary
  2. Supports emergent ability to engage and complete simple and complex tasks
  3. Develops cognitive skills for recognizing problems and potential solutions
  4. Fosters curiosity
  5. Develops positive self-concept and interactions with others
  6. Extend children’s comprehension skills of others’ oral explanations
  7. Helps children learn conversational skills 
  8. Helps support the value of data 
  9. Elicits interest in written materials 
  10. Helps children develop questioning skills

Tips & Tricks for the Classroom

Challenge: Preschool students are not readers yet, which leads many teachers and parents to limit the kind of science experiences because children cannot read. Similarly, children’s inability to write can be perceived as road block to engaging in teaching how to argue. However, we can creatively provide the same rigorous and fun experiences despite the age.

Practical Solution: One way to engage students is by experimenting with open-ended questions. Start by modeling some examples of questions then progress to inviting children to come up with their own questions. Below I share some tips on how to model and guide children towards independence as well.

Practical Tip: Explicit modeling can feel uncomfortable at first but once we practice it consistently it will get easier and it will feel “right”. Start pondering out loud observations and how these lead to questions. You can say things like, I am wondering…. Or, I observed that …. and now I have this question….

As a reliable adult, we need to show children that not only is it okay to have questions but that we are equally curious about our surroundings.

Practical Tip: Display in a visible area of the room the overarching scientific question of the week. Next to the question have a recordable sound box with the question recorded. These tools are inexpensive and can be found on Amazon. When an enriching environment has been provided (despite that young children cannot read or write) students will feel comfortable to participate in positive arguments.

Practical Tip: A fun way to foster questions is by doing playground walks and asking children to share their wonderings. You may find some commonalities in children’s questions or you may pose some questions by highlighting their observations, connecting the question to their everyday life or pointing out new phenomena.

Need Startup Questions?

Here are some examples of questions that have yielded good results for me.

Does the moon appear different over time?

Do different types of bubble wands create soap bubbles of different geometrical shapes?

If you are a little more structured in your classroom below is a snapshot of how I organize my questions as a science teacher.

What are YOUR practical tips for helping children argue. Share your ideas and questions, so we can grow together!

Reizelie is a former homeschool parent and a trained science and Montessori teacher with a passion for curriculum development. She loves learning and teaching and on her spare time she helps families create home environments that enrich a child's learning. Reizelie has a PhD in science education and has been working in the field of education for the last 19 years. She loves helping teachers, schools, and homeschooling families improve their science curriculum in ways that are authentic to scientists' work.

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