Philosophical Chairs Discussion

Philosophical Chairs discussions allow students to make meaning of texts while developing, defending, and supporting their claims
159 teachers like this strategy

About This Strategy

A Philosophical Chairs discussion begins with students having read a text or several texts and come to the discussion with a preliminary claim and evidence to support that claim. The students line up in two rows face-to-face (those who support one position are in one row and those who support the other side are in the other row). Then the teacher poses a question and the students take turns responding to the question with textual evidence, with the goal of trying to convince their peers to come to their side. At the end of a predetermined time, the teacher pauses the discussion and students assess whether they were influenced to change their opinion on the topic based on the evidence their peers presented. Then the teacher asks another question and the process continues. With this format, teachers can use a discussion such as this one to help students develop their opinions or claims on an issue and help students see that the strongest claims are often those that are supported by the best evidence.

Implementation Steps

20 minutes
  1. Select a text or texts for students to read and annotate in advance of the Philosophical Chairs discussion. Determine how you will assess the discussion by perhaps using a Philosophical Chairs Discussion Assessment Chart like this one from Scholastic.com.
  2. Give students the questions you will ask during the discussion in advance and have students complete a graphic organizer such as a Claim and Evidence T Chart to develop their claims and find textual evidence to support those claims.

  3. Develop classroom discussion norms or Rules of Engagement (see resource below).

  4. Show students where to stand for each side of the issue and have students move to the line that corresponds with their initial claim or opinion.

  5. Explain to students that you will ask a question and each side will have a chance to respond to the question. From there students can take turns elaborating on their opinions or claims with evidence. If students are swayed by a peer's evidence, they can physically cross the line to the other side.

  6. After a predetermined time, pause the discussion so students can reflect on whether they were influenced to change their opinion and what evidence was the strongest to support each side using a Philosophical Chairs Reflection sheet such as this one from Scholastic or a Philosophical Chairs Report (see resource below). Then allow students to take notes in a graphic organizer such as a T chart to note any new evidence to support the claims that came up during the discussion.

  7. Have students complete a reflection or written evaluation of the discussion at the end of the discussion (see resource below).

    • To learn more about supporting students to discuss challenging texts and topics, explore the Having Hard Conversations with Students strategy in the BetterLesson Lab.

Philosophical Chairs to Support Argumentative Writing

Students can take notes during or after a Philosophical Chairs discussion to support them to develop ideas, strengthen their claims,  and gather evidence for their own writing.

Implementation Steps:

  1. Before and after the Philosophical Chairs discussion provide time for students to gather evidence-based thoughts on the seminar topic. They can use a Claim and Evidence T Chart to gather their thoughts.
  2. Following the discussion, students can use their notes to develop an argumentative response to a prompt using a Claim-Based Essay Organizer.

Yes, No, Undecided Philosophical Chairs

One way to modify the Philosophical Chairs discussion is to arrange students in a U shape with those students who have a strong "yes" response to the teacher's question on one side of the U, those students who have a strong "no" response to the teacher's question on the other side of the U, and those students who are undecided in the middle of the U. Consult this resource to learn more (Source: Andara Macdonald)

Implementation Steps:

  1. Arrange the students' desks into a U shape and have students sit as follows:
    1. Students who are undecided about the answer to the teacher-posed question should sit in the middle of the U.
    2. Students who believe the answer to the teacher-posed question is "no" should sit on the opposite side of the U.
    3. Students who believe the answer to the teacher-posed question is "yes" should sit on one side of the U.
  2. Have students engage in the Philosophical Chairs discussion as outlined in the implementation steps above using evidence to support their claims. Students may move desks as their opinion changes during the discussion.

Philosophical Chairs Discussion For Distance Learning

Kathleen Rockefeller
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

The Philosophical Chairs Discussion can be successfully implemented in a synchronous distance learning setting by visually documenting the claims, opinions, and students who switched sides during the discussion.  

Implementation steps:

  1. Share the questions you will ask during the Philosophical Chairs Discussion in advance.  Allow students to use these questions to develop their claims and find textual evidence to support those claims.

    • Padlet is a technology tool that can be utilized for students to post their text evidence or claims for each question that will be asked during the Philosophical Chairs Discussion.  Each column in the Padlet will contain one of the Philosophical Chairs Discussion questions.  Then, students will post their comments, claims, and textual evidence to support their claims under each question.  Students should include their name with each of their comments in the Padlet.  The tutorial linked in the resources section below shows how to set up a Padlet.  

  2. Since students cannot physically stand on a specific side based on their claim or opinion to a question, allow them to distinguish which side they are on via chat or verbally. The teacher can use a Google doc with a table containing two columns labeled with the different sides to claim for each question, like the resource linked below (Philosophical Chairs Discussion Sides Template). The teacher can record students' names into each column based on which side they choose.  The teacher should make this visible during the discussion so that everyone can see where the students stand in their opinions.  

    • The Poll Everywhere website is a great tool to use as a way to poll students to determine which side of the discussion they choose.  The tutorial linked in the resources section below, Getting Started With Poll Everywhere, provides a description of how to set up and share a poll for students.  

    • Mentimeter is another engaging technology tool to use to gather and organize data.  Mentimeter allows the teacher and students to see live data from a poll.  The resource linked below, Mentimeter Tutorial, shows a quick video on how to create a Mentimeter. 

    • Google Jamboard can also be used for this part of the activity.  The teacher can type both sides of the claim onto the whiteboard.  Students can create a "sticky note" with their name on it and drag it to the side of the discussion claim that they agree with.  The resource linked below, Jamboard Tools for Reference and Glossary, provides a description of the different tools within the Google Jamboard app.  There is also a video tutorial linked in the resources section below on how to use Google Jamboard. 

  3. Students can take turns elaborating on their opinions or claims with evidence. If students are swayed by a peer's evidence, the teacher can move the student's name to the opposite column on the Google doc. 

  4. After a predetermined time, the teacher can pause the discussion so students can reflect on whether they were influenced to change their opinion and what evidence was the strongest to support each side using a reflection sheet.

    • The teacher can highlight students in the Google doc who switched sides during the discussion as a visual reminder.  These students can share out which major claims or evidence persuaded them to switch sides.

Special Education Modification

Nedra Massenburg
Special Education Specialist

Use of strategies like Philosophical Chairs Discussions are an excellent tool for students with disabilities by not only helping them improve their presentation and speaking skills but also improve their active listening and collaboration skills to develop relationships in the classroom and increase their mastery of concepts.

Philosophical Chairs Discussion skills require significant executive functioning skills (including focus, organization, working memory, etc.), written skills, and/or verbal expression skills.  In order to support students with disabilities who have difficulty in these areas, consider the following modifications:

Modifications:

  1. For students with disabilities that affect their verbal expression, provide additional scaffolds, such as visuals or talk stems to support their explanations and justifications. See the "Accountable Talk Stems" resource in the resource section below.

  2. Teachers can also give learners a Claim and Evidence T Chart in which they can use evidence to determine both sides of an issue before engaging in the Philosophical Chairs discussion. Students can use this T-Chart to organize their thinking before the discussion and take notes during the discussion.  

  3. Teachers can also give learners the questions ahead of time and allow them to write their thoughts before participating in the activity. 

  4. Depending on the number of students with disabilities in setting and the intensity of their impairments, teachers may have to intervene frequently as a teacher to ensure all students have the opportunity to process what has been said. Students who benefit from additional processing time or who struggle with short-term memory should be given time to stop and jot any new ideas they learned from one peer before moving on to the next learner to minimize memory loss.

  5.  If multiple teachers are present, careful thought should be put into co-teaching models and how they integrate into a differentiated lesson plan using Philosophical Chairs Discussion.  See the "How to Choose a Co-Teaching Model" and the "Differentiation Within the Inclusion Classroom Model" resources in the resource section below for more information.

  6. If multiple teachers are present in a setting, consider having one teacher work in a small group of students with intensive disabilities to provide them more modeling and more frequent feedback when using the Philosophical Chairs Discussion technique.

EL Modification

Shannon Coyle
English Learner Specialist

This strategy provides an excellent opportunity for English learners to engage their academic language skills in scholarly discussion in a guided way. 

English learners need to read and site evidence in text, write opinions, listen to peers and respond verbally. In order to support English Learners consider the following modifications:
Modifications:

  1. Provide leveled or alternative text. English learners at all levels will require comprehensible text to be able to participate. Consider developmentally appropriate alternate text with similar themes. Consider assigning a smaller chunk of class text. Consider providing audio versions of text. Partner with learners’ language specialist or the school’s reading specialist to source appropriate text. See the "The Best Places To Get The "Same" Text Written For Different "Levels"" resource in the resource section below.
  2. Ensure learners understand norms. Check in with learners in advance of the activity to ensure they understand how it will work and what their role is. Consider using a response protocol. See the "Extending English Language Learners' Classroom Interactions Using the Response Protocol" resource in the resource section below for more information.
  3. Use simplified wh- stem questions to guide learners to make their own claims and evidence. See the "CER graphic organizer for English Learners" in the resource section below.
  4. Guide text annotations. Scaffold annotation writing, which is a discrete skill itself, by creating guiding questions written in a language English learners can understand. Have learners answer the questions as their annotations. See the "Teacher Tool: Leveled Question Prompts for English Language Learners" resource in the resource section below for more information.
  5. Preview all questions. Learners at lower levels of proficiency may benefit from having all class questions in order to prepare responses in advance. Provide sentence stems or frames and word banks for learners to draft responses to bring to the discussion. 

  6. Provide a note taking template. Create a note-taking template for learners to use during discussion to track what they hear and reference when determining whether their opinion has changed. See the "Philosophical Chairs Note Taking Template" resource in the resource section below for more information.
  7. Scaffold evaluations. Differentiate post discussion reflections. Provide written scaffolds, rubrics, cloze exercises, etc. in order to lessen linguistic load and ensure deep reflection. 

 

Questions to Consider

  1. What are the benefits of having students physically move to different areas of the room?

  2. In which instances might you use a face-to-face Philosophical Chairs discussion versus a Four Corners Philosophical Chairs discussion?

  3. What can you do next after a philosophical chairs discussion?

Related Lessons

Explore the "Philosophical Chairs : Facilitating Student Discussion" lesson by 7th grade Science BetterLesson Master Teacher John Cerezo to see how his students engage in a Philosophical Chairs discussion.

Tech Tools

Google Forms

  • Google Forms are an easy way to gather (form) and aggregate (sheet) information. Response to a Google Form document can be aggregated, sorted, and saved in a Google Sheet.

  • Google Forms can support this strategy by creating a simple way for students to write their report at the end of the discussion, and for the teachers to have all this information organized.

Socrative

  • Socrative is a digital assessment tool that allows for recording of student responses on exit ticket, quizzes or spur in the moment question. All students have to do is enter the teacher Socrative room via one code, always the same, and the class becomes interactive from there

  • Socrative can support this strategy by providing an easy way to have students submit their discussion report afterwards. It can also be used to ask questions to the group live during the discussion.