In partnership with the Society of Biology, Royal Society of Chemistry, and Institute of Physics

Argumentation quick start guide


What is argumentation?

This set of resources exemplifies ways in which practical work can be used alongside a pedagogical approach known as argumentation.  

A scientific argument uses evidence to make a case for whether a scientific idea should be accepted or rejected. The process of developing, discussing and evaluating these scientific arguments is called argumentation.

Why is argumentation important in the science classroom?

Science education aims to develop students’ understanding of both scientific concepts and of how science and scientists work. Argumentation is a core practice used by communities of research scientists, and it is through these activities that science knowledge is developed and agreed. Argumentation activities can be used in school science to mirror this practice.

There is also a strong evidence base highlighting argument and collaborative discussion as key social processes through which we can learn. This is because engagement in these activities can be an effective way of making knowledge explicit, challenging misconceptions, building new knowledge, and increasing articulation.

Research has shown that argumentation approaches can help develop knowledge and skills which are critical to students’ short and long term development;

Argumentation encourages students to use higher order processes;

  • Teachers whose lessons included the highest quality of argumentation also encouraged higher order processes in their teaching (Simon, Erduran and Osborne, 2006).

Argumentation can develop your students’ content knowledge;

  • Explicit teaching about argumentation enhanced students’ biological knowledge (Zohar and Nemet, 2002).
  • Argumentation improves subject knowledge which was significantly better in the argumentation group than the control group (Venville and Dawson, 2010).

Argumentation can help prepare students for assessment;

  • Passmore and Stewart (2002), Zohar and Nemet (2002) and Venville and Dawson (2010) provide part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that argumentation is better than other approaches at preparing students for assessment.

Often, Holistic development of thinking skills and development for assessment are seen as polar opposites which compete for time.  This research suggests, however, that argumentation may offer a pedagogical approach which can achieve both these goals simultaneously.

What is argumentation?

Argumentation is the process of developing, discussing and evaluating scientific arguments. A scientific argument is based around a particular claim, or assertion, which is justified by relating it to supporting evidence, or data.

A warrant is an explanation of how the data supports the claim and therefore why the claim should be accepted.

Simple model of argumentation

Adapted from Osborne, J. et al (2004), and Toulmin (1958)

The summary below has been prepared using a range of literature on the subject, and is designed to introduce you to the different factors which go into using argumentation successfully in practical lessons.

It introduces three argumentation frameworks; Predict-Observe-Explain, Classification, and Analysing and Interpreting Data. These frameworks identify the focus of the argumentation for any particular lesson, and are based on those described in the IDEAS In-Service Training Pack (Osborne, J. et al, 2004). They have been chosen because of their relevance to practical work.

  • Predict-Observe-Explain:  Students predict the outcome of a practical activity using their prior knowledge. They compare the actual outcome with their prediction. They then justify why their prediction was correct, or look for why their original ideas were at fault, and develop and justify a new explanation.
  • Classification: Students use argumentation to justify their choices about objects/ideas belonging to particular categories.
  • Analysing and Interpreting Data: Students decide whether or not the data available is sufficient to draw particular conclusions and justify their decisions through argumentation.

In each case students use collected or given data to justify their claims, which might be an explanation for a phenomenon, their particular way of grouping items or their assessment of the validity of a data set. In order to justify their claims they need to not only consider evidence which supports their claim, but also address counter-claims (opposing claims).

From these three frameworks, more specific ideas for embedding argumentation into your practical work are suggested. These are only some ideas to help you, and certainly not a definitive list.

Summary of argumentation

The following sections build on this basic model - showing how to execute specific areas essential to using the argumentation approach successfully.

1. How is argumentation different from related other concepts?

2. What does argumentation look like in practice?

3. The teacher’s role in supporting argumentation

4. The student’s role in argumentation

5. Getting critical within argumentation

6. How does argumentation link to other aspects of Practical Work for Learning?

References for the introduction to argumentation

A research summary in the area of argumentation was produced to inform this development of these resources.


Page last updated on 16 June 2016