Two ways to develop children’s synoptic view of a conversation

M.M. McCabe (2006) characterises (Platonic) dialectic as having the following five dimensions:

  1. logical dimension (A or B, A or not A etc.)
  2. sequential dimension (doing things in the right order)
  3. psychological dimension (problem seeing)
  4. An epistemological dimension (aiming towards a synoptic view of the discussion)
  5. normative dimension (doing it well or doing it badly)


I have previously written that having children gain a synoptic view (dimension 4) – or getting a sense of the conversation as a whole (where it’s been, where it’s going, what the implications are, what progress has been made etc.) – is one of the most difficult things to achieve in a philosophical conversation between children and that this is the characteristic that most distinguishes philosophy with children from philosophy with adults. However, here are two simple, practical ways that you can use to help encourage children’s synoptic view of a conversation.


Socratic Circle

If you are not already familiar with SCs then have a look at wikipedia: 'Socratic Circles'.

To implement this in a basic way during a class discussion, simply put two or more students into the ‘outer circle’ role. Have them sit out of the circle with a pen and paper and ask them to listen to the discussion and make their own notes regarding the conversation. Periodically, ask them to comment on the discussion, either with a broad question like, ‘What do you think of the discussion so far?’ or with more specific tasks such as, ‘Do you agree/disagree with anyone?’ or ‘Are there any arguments you found persuasive?’ etc.


Scribing and summarising

Appoint a scribe/summariser. Ask someone to ‘concept/topic/mind-map’ the discussion (find out more on wikipedia: 'Concept Map'), as it happens, on a large whiteboard so it can be seen by all the children. Periodically, ask the ‘scribe’ to summarise the discussion so far. In order to engage the rest of the class with this way of developing their synoptic view, once the scribe has finished, ask the whole class whether they think anything important has been left out from the scribe’s summary (interpretative), or ask them if they agree with it (evaluative). You could try out other ways of making use of this such as asking the class, ‘Where do you think we should go next?’ (strategical) or ‘What do you think we should do to solve this problem?’ or ‘Have we answered the question?’ (progress-orientated) etc. Some of these suggestions combine the Socratic Circle approach with the Scribe strategy.


What do you think?

Why don’t you try out these strategies and let us know (in a comment on this page) how it went. Did it help to encourage children’s synoptic view?

Posted by Joe Tyler on 10th January 2017 at 12:00am