An AVID strategy for inquiry based dialogue
What are Philosophical Chairs?
Philosophical Chairs is a format for classroom discussion and an activity that can be used in any clas. While this activity uses a format similar to debate, it is dialogue that we value so that everyone's point of view is valued and respected. The benefits of this discussion activity include the development of students’ abilities to give
careful attention to other students’ comments and to engage in dialogue with one another to gain a greater understanding of the topic presented.
Philosophical Chairs differs from Socratic Seminar in that it is not dependent on a text, but the reading of some text before engaging in the activity can only enhance the process. Philosophical Chairs focuses on a central statement or topic that is controversial. Topics should be appropriate to your content area and to the age of the students involved. Current events make great Philosophical Chairs topics but must be closely monitored by the teacher.
Because the basic format for Philosophical Chairs remains the same from grade level to grade level, no explicit differentiations are included here. You will differentiate from grade level to grade level by choosing central statements or topics with increased complexity and by decreasing the level of teacher involvement in the process. In the middle school years, the teacher will almost always provide the topic and facilitate the discussion.
Vimeo Video Password: #PhilosophicalChairs
Ways use Philosophical Chairs
- As a warm-up activity to introduce a concept
- A an MRS to spice up a lesson
- After reading an open ended story in Language Arts or Reading
- To debate the decisions made by key historical figures in History
- To debate ethical issues such as cloning in Science
- Modify with 4 sides to analyze possible solutions to a Math problem
- As a pre-writing activity students to gather multiple perspectives on a topic
- To allow students to make real-world connections to your content
Step by Step Guide for Philosophical Chairs
2. A statement is presented to the students. This statement might be based on a reading or might be a stand-alone statement. Either way, the statement should be one that will divide the class into those who agree with the statement and those who disagree with the statement. Be sure that the statement is written on the board for reference
during the activity. (Note: Allowing for a group of students who are undecided is addressed later in this module.)
3. Those who agree with the central statement sit on one side and those who disagree sit on the other side.
4. A mediator who will remain neutral and call on sides to speak is positioned between the two sides. (This role is usually filled by the teacher in the beginning or middle school years. Eventually, students should take on this role.) In addition to facilitating the discussion, the mediator may at times paraphrase the arguments made by
each side for clarification. It is important that the mediator always remains neutral.
5. The mediator recognizes someone from the side of the classroom that agrees with the central statement to begin the discussion with an argument in favor of the position stated. Next, the mediator will recognize someone from the other side to respond to the argument. This continues throughout the activity, and part of the job
of the mediator is to ensure participation by as many students as possible and to keep just a few students from dominating the discussion. The mediator may also put a time limit on how long each side addresses the issue on each turn.
6. In addition to speaking in the discussion, students may express their opinions by moving from one side to other.Anyone may change seats at any time. Changing seats does not necessarily mean that a person’s mind is changed, but rather that argument made is compelling enough to sway the opinions. Students may move back
and forth throughout the discussion.
7. The discussion and movement go on for a designated period of time—usually one class period. The mediator may bring the discussion to a close at any time. Each side may be given an opportunity to make a final statement on the issue. If time allows, each participant states his/her final opinion and may also tell which arguments
he/she found most convincing.
8. An additional piece to this activity can be to have a few students observe the process and take notes instead of participating. These students will debrief their observations to the class at the end of the activity. You may have students who were absent or unprepared to participate fulfill this role.
It is recommended that you begin this activity with just two sides. If students have difficulty choosing a side to begin, encourage them to sit on the side that they agree with the most even if they do not completely agree. Once students are accustomed to this format, you may choose to add this additional component: You may add a third section of seats with a few chairs for students who are undecided. This section is placed between the two opposing sides. During the discussion, you may allow students from the undecided section to participate or you may require that they take a position before participating. Students may move from the sides that agree or disagree with the statement to the undecided
section if they wish. Before you end the discussion, require that all students still seating in the undecided zone move to one side or the other depending on which they believe made the most compelling arguments.