|Philosophical Chairs – Overview|
|Philosophical chairs in its simplest form is a pro/con debate in which students select a side and physically move to the space in the classroom that has been designated pro or con. Students debate from those physical positions while being given the flexibility to change sides (physically and argumentatively) and adapt arguments during the philosophical chairs debate. The format provides room for more open-mindedness and consideration of the other side than a fixed-side debate.
Grades: 6 and up
A wide variety of content from ProCon.org will work for this lesson plan. Students could debate a broad topic, such as Should Animals Be Used for Scientific or Commercial Testing?, with students being able to use arguments from ProCon.org and others they think of themselves. For a smaller debate, students could focus on a more specific concern such as Should States Issue Driver’s Licenses to Immigrants in the United States Illegally?. Alternatively, students could debate matched pros/cons from a larger topic like Binge-Watching, such as “binge-watching leads to beneficial social connections” against “binge-watching leads to mental health issues.” ProCon.org resources may also be incorporated as additional texts. For example, School Uniforms around the World might support or negate the arguments for and against wearing school uniforms.
1. Students should be prepared to debate for the pro or con side, or state why they are unsure.
2. Students may change sides at any time.
3. Debate should be respectful and students should keep open minds.
4. No one may interrupt the student who is speaking.
5. To agree with or retort another student’s position, students must first summarize the argument they are referring to.
6. Students must wait until three other people have spoken before they may speak again.
1. Have students review the chosen ProCon.org texts and any supporting texts as either a homework assignment or an in-class activity.
2. Define the debate question, ground rules, and the opposing sides. Generally: pro, con, and unsure. If your class isn’t particularly chatty, the unsure category can be eliminated so everyone doesn’t jump in the middle to avoid talking.
2. Students should choose a side of the debate and physically move to the designated side of the classroom. Ideally, pro students should stand or sit on one side and con students on the other with unsure students at one end, as if in the middle of a horseshoe formation.
3. Have students debate the topic using textual evidence from ProCon.org and with as much instructor facilitation as needed.
4. Have students reflect on the activity, either as a conversation or a written assignment, including if (and why) they changed sides, what they learned from other students and the activity itself, and how they can apply the lessons learned to other conversations.
Teaching Channel, “Reading Like a Historian: Philosophical Chairs,” teachingchannel.org (accessed Apr. 30, 2019)
Kelisa Wing, “How Philosophical Chairs Can Teach the Importance of Tolerance,” blog.pearsonschool.com, Mar. 5, 2018
ProCon.org Topics: Any site. See full list of debate topics.
Subjects: Social Studies, Public Policy, Civics, American Government, Communication, English / Language Arts, Composition, Science, Biology
Common Core Anchor Standards: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4, CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1