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Getting Started with Virtual Philosophical Chairs

One of my favorite ways to get students talking in my classes was an AVID strategy called Philosophical Chairs. Philosophical Chairs is a student-centered format for classroom discussion that promotes analytical reading, respectful dialogue, and personal reflection. You could equate it to a debate, however, there is a much richer focus on text and mutual understanding. It’s an amazing strategy to get students talking to one another – whether you are teaching in person or online!

In the post below, I will share the steps for setting up and running a Philosophical Chair in your classroom, as well as a useful Google Slide Template! Let’s get started!

Step #1: Create a Prompt

The first step of any successful Philosophical Chair is a relevant prompt for students to discuss. If it isn’t relevant to the students, then they won’t be interested in participating. In the past, I’ve had students discuss whether college athletes should be paid, if video games made people violent, and if social media should be limited to people over the age of 14. All of these topics immediately had my student’s interest because it was relevant to them.

Here is a list of possible Philosophical Chair topics I found online: Philosophical Chair Topics. The reason I said possible is that you should always reflect on the appropriateness of the topic based upon the age of your students.

Step #2: Find a Text to Read

Once you create your prompt, it is important to find a relevant text (or two!) for students to read to reflect on the prompt. Sometimes I would pick one article for them to read that was less biased, then allow students time to conduct their own research to find their additional texts. With my students, I always stressed the importance that their opinions were based on facts. They had to be able to prove why they chose the side they eventually sided on.

Step #3: Read & Annotate

After you select your text, I encourage you to teach your students to read, annotate, and reflect on the text that they have read. If you are unfamiliar with annotating the text, I encourage you to check out this student-centered template to use with your text:

Annotating the Text Student Template (View) (Copy)

As you can see in the template, this will guide your students through the pre-reading, reading, and post-reading of the text. By using these strategies, students were more likely to engage in deep levels of thinking with the text they were reading.

Step #4: Choose a Side!

After students spent time reflecting on the text they had read, the fun part begins – choosing a side! In the classroom, I would split the room in half to represent an “agree” and “disagree” side. I would ask students to stand on the side that reflected their opinion. If they were still unsure, they could stay in the middle. I’ve seen Philosophical Chairs done with more structure during this part, such as setting up chairs on each side and having students sit down. Personally, I would have my students push the furniture to opposite ends of the class so that they could move around during the discussion if their opinions started to change.

If you want a digital option with less movement, check out this template:

(View) (Copy)

Share this template with students and enable access to everyone. Each student takes a “tag” and replaces “Student” with their name. During the discussion, students can virtually move their name to the “agree” or “disagree” side – or even somewhere in the middle!

Step #5: Discuss

Once students have selected a side, the discussion beings! Here are a few rules I had during the discussion:

  • Equal speaking time for each side.
  • No interrupting each other – only talk when you are holding the “speaking object”.
  • Refer to evidence in your text at least once while you are speaking.
  • Reference what other students have said by saying, “I agree with John because…” or “I disagree with John because…”

Usually, we would spend the majority of the class discussing the topic because it’s just so fun!

Step #6: Repeat 4-5!

Throughout the discussion,  I would give students time to repeat the last two steps. They would have the opportunity to move sides after a few students talked and then the discussion would continue and repeat!

As you can see, this is a really fun (and super easy) instructional strategy that you can use in your classroom. I hope you give it a try out and, if you do, feel free to share how it went and/or how you modified it for your students!

2 thoughts on “Getting Started with Virtual Philosophical Chairs

  1. Hi Meagan this might be off topic but how do you engage in professional learning communities? What is one of the things you have gained from these kinds of activities?

    1. Hi Andrea! Great question. I have a variety of different groups that I engage in. Obviously, I have my school and site PLC’s. These are the people I interact with daily and learn/grow from. Then, I have PLC’s within my district. People I go to for ideas, brainstorming and inspiration. Finally, I have a group of educators that I have connected with all around the world through Twitter. I hope this helps!

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