Philosophical Chairs is a strategy for instructional use within the classroom to allow students to “critically think, verbally ponder, and logically write their beliefs” (Macdonald, 2) Students would be expected to come to class prepared to discuss a newspaper article, essay, short story, or passage that they have actively taken notes on. After reading and taking notes, students will be prompted with a teacher developed question that will provoke thoughtful discussion. Students will then be separated into two separate seating arrangements in which one side of the room identifies that they are in support of the given question, while the other side disagrees or challenges the merit of the question. Each student must speak and contribute their supporting evidence at least twice and must structure their responses in a constructive and respectful manner (i.e. “I understand what you are saying, however the article states…”). Students are allowed to switch sides if they feel that the opposing group has presented a valid argument.
When is it useful?:
This activity is useful in any subject area during an activity that requires students to read and find supporting evidence in a particular piece of text. The concept that is pulled from the text for discussion should be thought provoking and engaging.
Video: View an example of who it can be effectively used.
Who does this strategy benefit? What students may struggle with this particular strategy?:
This strategy benefits those learners who prefer to get out of their seats, move around, and actively engage. Students who may struggle with this activity would be those who identify as intrapersonal learners. These students may not choose to participate in the active discussion or debate.
If there are too many students to hold what would be considered an effective and on-task classroom debate, students can be further split into sub-groups and can be assigned additional roles. An additional role that could be assigned would be “the judges”. Students can grade each group on the effectiveness of their supporting evidence and clarity of speech. Another additional role could be a moderator who ensures and keeps documentation that each speaker gives at least two responses.
Connection to Readings:
Silberman states that inquisitive minds would like to “know”. Students are naturally curious and as educators we can capitalize on their curiosity with the use of a constructive strategy (Silberman, 84). Silberman suggests that within the two groups to create subgroups and “ask each subgroup to develop arguments for its assigned position, or provide an extensive list of arguments they might discuss and select” (84) Although this activity reaches for higher critical thinking skills, one must keep in mind Hehir’s suggestion that teachers come to the conclusion and determine that “all students could reach high academic standards in inclusive settings” (79).
During my placement at Hughes, I had the opportunity to witness and facilitate Philosophical Chairs in ELA. During one particular class period, students read an article on the impact of Facebook on your future (i.e. privacy, job interviews, college scholarships, etc.). Students each took a side: “Students should be careful monitoring what it is they post on Facebook” versus “Students should be able to freely post what they please”. Each group provided detailed arguments that were constructive and grounded in textual evidence. Students were actively engaged and even students who would normally choose not to participate, chose to participate in this particular classroom discussion. Students really got a feel for why textual evidence is so important to support your ideas. Students discussed vocabulary words such as bias, “sound” evidence, relevant vs. irrelevant, compare & contrast, opinions, debate, and more! The rules of the activity are structured and will be more effective once a routine is established and expectations are clear. I found that as time went on, students took less time to transition and were more effective in delivering evidence to support their main ideas.
Written by: Jessica Bochmann
Hehir, T., & Katzman, L. (2012). Effective Inclusive Schools: Designing Successful Schoolwide Programs. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, INC.
Macdonald, A, Philosophical Chairs: A Tool To Teaching Critical Thinking, 12/17/12, http://www.sdcoe.net/lret/avid/resources/philosophical_chairs.pdf
Silberman, M, Active Learning: 101 Strategies To Teach Any Subject, Allyn and Bacon, 1996,