A Framework for Whole-Class Discussions

The practice of Philosophical Chairs encourages students to pay attention to what is being said and to express their opinions.

There is a range of exercises that can be utilized to teach kids to communicate with and listen to one another. Students-centered strategies can be applied throughout a wide range of subject areas. It is structured like a debate, and one of its key objectives is to persuade students to reconsider their positions.

Additionally, students should conduct respectful discussion, present evidence for claims based on prior knowledge, organize their thinking and avoid making inaccurate comments. These objectives can all be linked to standards. Students might also test their assumptions as a result of this activity.


For Philosophical Chairs, the following is the essential outline:

  • A student or a teacher addresses the class and asks them to evaluate a remark they have made.
  • Students are given three minutes to write about the statement they are given.
  • They decide what position they will take on the statement (yes or no, undecided).
  • They will spend roughly 10 to 15 minutes debating their ideas and positions on the subject.
  • They reflect on the most challenging statement they got, whether or not they have changed their beliefs, and how open-minded they were at the start of the discussion.

Before beginning any speaking or listening activity, it is critical to establish discussion standards with the group. The following are the expectations for my class:

One individual at a time.

Pay close attention to what the speaker is saying and express your appreciation through your body language.
Repeat what the person who spoke before you said; before you speak again, allow three individuals from your side to speak on your behalf.
If they aren’t obeying the rules, kindly and discreetly remind them of the expectations you have.

Students are given a list of sentence stems that they can use to politely disagree with one another, add to another’s thoughts, and return the discourse to the topic at hand, among other things. These are used for the first few talks of a class session. After that, most students don’t require them anymore.


The following section provides a more in-depth discussion of Philosophical Chairs. The facilitator makes a declaration about a certain topic in front of the class. It can be created by the teacher or by the students.

This statement does not have to be correct or correct in every instance, but it must be relevant to the content. Philosophical Chairs might argue, for example, that tobacco products should be sold to minors 12 years old and older if they are under the supervision of an adult in a health class. “Using a car-sharing service is more fiscally smart than owning a vehicle,” says the teacher in arithmetic class.

I give students five assertions to disagree with to ensure that there is enough disagreement to create a dynamic conversation. For each statement, students spend some time composing a response, which includes an explanation and a yes or no response. Before we begin, I conduct a poll of the class to ensure that there is a fair representation of all viewpoints. If there aren’t enough supporters, I’ll either drop my statement or join the side with fewer supporters. Aside from that, I’m just a bystander.

In their first draughts, students write down their initial thoughts and responses. Then they can choose to sit or stand in the yes or no rows facing each other, depending on their preference. Students who are unsure of their decision should take up positions at the ends of the rows facing them.

The discussion is mediated by a student facilitator who is a member of the class. The statement is read aloud by the student facilitators, who then encourage students to speak. They gently encourage students to keep their attention on the topic at hand. I train facilitators ahead of time, showing them how to ask clarifying questions and how to ask questions themselves. Then I ask them to call on people who appear to have something to say but aren’t raising their hands to be called on.

For the first several minutes, the two sides will take turns speaking. Gradually, the class grows more attentive and courteous of one another as the year goes on. It is natural for kids to be unconcerned about the sequence of events. Everyone continues to contribute.

I provide the facilitator with a list of students to enhance the number of students who speak at least once. Students don’t need to talk. While I do ask that everyone listen properly, it is especially important for children not to speak during the meeting. They will finally express themselves. I have never witnessed a student remain silent. Their classmates encourage them to talk, and they then express their opinions.

As the discussion begins, the first person to speak should provide a rationale for their point of view. Before the next student can speak, they must summarise what has just been spoken by the previous student.

Students are free to switch sides at any time. They don’t have to justify themselves; they simply go on. They frequently speak out immediately after relocating to tell you what caused them to change their mind and then to contribute their thoughts to the conversation.

Undecided students are not required to choose aside. They must, however, identify the most convincing arguments on each side and explain why they believe those arguments are the most compelling. Towards the conclusion of the session, the facilitator will express their thoughts.

Occasionally, if I believe that one side is not being fair and reasonable, I will invite them to participate in a Lincoln Debate. This necessitates everyone taking a distinct stance and arguing for the opposing point of view. Students’ thinking is challenged as a result, and they are encouraged to consider alternative points of view.

Kids must be commended for their open-mindedness rather than for their great performance. Even though they receive a great deal of positive feedback through zingers, how often do you recognize that open-mindedness is something we want to nurture in our children?

It is quite enlightening to listen to the intelligent comments made by my students. It’s the “I changed my mind because…,” or “I didn’t change my mind because…,” that’s the most interesting part about reading their reflections and watching the growth of the page: “I didn’t change my mind because…,” or “I didn’t change my mind because…, but it was interesting to learn that…” Through their remarks, I was able to observe their development.