Philosophical Chairs is a structured form of discussion founded on using evidence to develop an informed response to a prompt on a current issue. In this strategy, students determine their perspective on the prompt, varying points of view on the issue based on text evidence, and actively persuade others to join their position. Students may change their position or perspective on the topic throughout the activity. The goal of Philosophical Chairs is to persuade others and be open to persuasion, not to reach a consensus about a topic.
- Gain a deeper understanding of a current and controversial issue.
- Use literacy skills to analyze a text.
- Persuade others using evidence-based claims.
- Develop speaking, listening, and analytical skills.
- Exhibit intellectual flexibility and respect for others’ ideas and lived experiences.
- Copy of Philosophical Chairs Student Discussion Guide: Post Procedure in room for reference.
- Philosophical Chairs Discussion Handouts, one per student
- Pro Con reading, Should the voting age be lowered to 16?
- Classroom set-up, desks or tables in a u-shape with three clear areas designated as yes, no, and undecided.
One to two, 60 minute class periods. If you only have time for one class period, students should have done the reading and completed page one of the Philosophical Chairs Discussion Handouts before the Law Day visit.
Tips for Facilitator:
Creating the Climate for Discussion: Creating a climate for discussion is essential to supporting civic learning. Students must feel safe and secure in the learning environment, be clear on the rules for the current and controversial issues discussions, and respect the principles of inclusive and productive conversations. It will be helpful to discuss what classroom discussion norms and expectations have been established with the teacher prior to the Law Day visit and to ask students to help you review them prior to engaging in the Philosophical Chairs Discussion.
Student Centered Discussion: A Philosophical Chairs activity is student centered and student led. The facilitator is responsible for identifying materials for the discussion and preparing students for the activity. Once the discussion in underway, the facilitator supports the discussion, acts as a mediator when needed, and redirects the conversation back to the text.
- Introduce yourself, the 2020 Law Day theme, and how it connects to the content of the discussion that students will be participating in.
- Provide a brief overview of the purpose and objectives of the Philosophical Chairs activity.
- Distribute a copy of the Philosophical Chairs Discussion Handouts and the text selection to each student. During the first class period students should read the text, Should the voting age be lowered to 16?, and complete page 1 of the Philosophical Chairs Discussion Handout.
- During the second class period, students will participate in the discussion. Before you begin, review steps 3 and 4, and the Rules for Current and Controversial Issues Discussions on page 2 of the student handouts.
- Instruct students to move to the area of the classroom that aligns with their position on the prompt (yes, no, undecided). Give students 5-10 minutes to compare notes as a position group and then engage in a whole class discussion. Students will individually share their perspective with evidence in attempt to persuade others to join their side. Students that are undecided will pose questions to other students in order to clarify their stance on the prompt.
- The discussion should take 20 – 40 minutes, depending on the class size.
Throughout the activity the facilitator should provide multiple opportunities for students to think about their perspective and decide if they should move to a different place in the u-shape.
Closure and Reflection: At the end of the discussion, each side may be given an opportunity to make a final statement and complete their individual reflections (on page 2 of student handouts). This should take between 5-10 minutes. The reflection time is an opportunity for all students to reflect on the Philosophical Chairs process or to respond to prompts related to the topic.
**Display the following in the room so that the steps are visible for student reference.
Philosophical Chairs Student Procedures: Quick Recap
- Analyze the text and complete page 1 of Philosophical Chairs Discussion Handouts.
- Using your Choosing Sides Chart on the handout, gather with peers of the same perspective to discuss the prompt and compare evidence from the text.
- Engage in an informed and respectful whole group civil dialogue
- Complete a written reflection on the philosophical Chairs Activity.