Using P4C to Explore Concepts

Philosophy for Children (P4C) is a British-based curriculum designed to teach kids reasoning and conversational skills. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s definitely worth a look. In this article, we will look at one way you can use P4C to deepen student understanding.

Learning in the PYP is centered around concepts. These are the ‘big ideas’ we want children to understand and transfer. Try out this transformative P4C routine to get students debating BIG ideas:

  1. Choose a stimulus. Think about the concepts you hope your students will recognize. For instance, you might share an image that strongly illustrates change, because change is connected to your unit. Thought-provoking books, pictures, videos, activities or objects can all serve as potential stimuli.
  2. Present the stimulus. Ask children to notice and name any connected themes or concepts. Let’s say you’re hoping to drive your students towards a conversation around  growth mindset, so you choose the book “Giraffe’s Can’t Dance” as your stimulus. From this book kids might identify growth mindset, along with other concepts like: friendship, inspiration, self-belief, failure, and many others. Write each concept on individual index cards, and make them visible to all students in your group.
  3.  Create a BIG question to connect with each concept. Get your students in the mindset for inquiry, by revisiting what it means to ask thick and thin questions. Invite students to identify the concept they connect with best, and form teams for question-building. For example you might distribute the cards by saying, “Which students would like to create a question related to the concept of  friendship?” In this group, you might see questions like: “Are there bad friends?” or “Does a friend always keep secrets?”
  4. Present all questions to the group. Move your class into a circle, and allow each group to share their question. Lay each concept question in the center of the circle after each team shares.
  5. Vote on a question to discuss. Give students time to think about the question(s) they would like to discuss. Ask them to cast their vote(s) using a system that works in your classroom. It’s useful to remind students that voting is not about winning or losing. In many instances, students will not vote to discuss their own question.
  6. Discuss the question. P4C circles are perfect opportunities to teach students how to build an effective argument. Provide your students with rich sentence stems to foster a more powerful conversation.

During these discussions, the teacher takes on the role of facilitator. Be sure to listen for any student-initiated inquiries. Often, students make statements that can be used for separate discussions or “mini-P4Cs”. This thinking practice is a great way to get to know what’s really on your students’ minds and get to the heart of what really matters most. Concepts.


How did this routine help deepen your class discussions?

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