Philosophical Chairs Discussion

Philosophical Chairs discussions allow students to make meaning of texts while developing, defending, and supporting their claims
51 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.

Special Education Modification

Students with learning disabilities that impact verbal communication may benefit from using academic talk stems during the discussion. Teachers can also give students a Claim and Evidence T Chart in which students 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. Teachers can also give students the questions ahead of time and allow them to write their thoughts before participating in the activity. 

EL Modification

For EL students, this strategy provides an excellent opportunity for students to practice their English speaking skills. To acquire language fluency, students need opportunities to produce real, purposeful language. This strategy could be further modified for EL students by modeling for students how to ask and answer discussion questions, providing the students with the ability to prepare responses to questions with a partner or receive feedback on their responses to a question from a partner before engaging in the seminar, or providing sample question or answer stems to guide their discussion contributions.

Questions to Consider Before Implementation

  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?

Lessons that Align to this Strategy

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.