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Philosophical Chairs. The Theory Behind It. For effective learning to occur, students must become explicitly aware of their own (mis) conceptions about a particular topic. Student "errors" should be illuminated rather than avoided and "contradictions" explored rather than ignored.

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Philosophical Chairs

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the theory behind it
The Theory Behind It
  • For effective learning to occur, students must become explicitly aware of their own (mis) conceptions about a particular topic.
  • Student "errors" should be illuminated rather than avoided and "contradictions" explored rather than ignored.
  • Students can resolvecognitive dissonance brought about by exposure to alternative perspectives or errors in thinking.
how it works
How It Works
  • As they enter class, hand students an article to read on a controversial topic.
how it works4
How It Works
  • The topic should elicit a mixed response.
  • Some people agree whole-heartedly while others vehementlydisagree with the premise for many reasons.
  • Still others will reserve judgment until or unless they hear something to persuade them one way or the other.
how it works5
How It Works
  • Inform students that they will have a chance to argue the merits of the topic and will be seated according to their views.
  • Sitting on one side of two rows of facing chairs indicates one's total support of the topic.
  • Sitting at the other side signals a student’s total disagreement.
  • Students who have undecided views or have questions to ask sit behind or at the end of the two rows
how it works6
How It Works

The Moderator

  • Job is to insure everyonegets a chance to speak.
  • May be the teacher or a student.
  • They should allow participants to address a statement made by a particular person
  • Be careful that the "pros," "cons," and "questions" are equally represented
  • Make sure the discussion is not dominated by a few eager students.
how it works7
How It Works
  • Students are able to move about the room during the discussion, similar to a game of musical chairs.
  • Participants can symbolize their willingness to adopt a different point of view — even if temporarily — by moving in the direction of that view and assuming a new location.
  • To insure that movement takes place, students can receive "credit” for participation or taking multiple viewpoints.
ideas to consider
Ideas To Consider:
  • Tape the discussion and later have students help analyze parts of the dialogue for evidence of specific reasoning strategies.
  • Large classes: have a subsection "take the stage" and conduct the discussion while the rest of the class listens, takes notes
    • Later decides the "pivotal point(s)" which ultimately persuaded them to adopt one perspective over another.
suggested rules
Suggested Rules

1. Be open-minded. Listen to all statements made and consider both sides.

2. Move to the other side if a particular statement or argument seems to sway your thinking. Experience the "other side."

3. No one acknowledges any move. This is not a team game.

4. Do not raise hands or speak while another person is speaking


  • Statement should be written on the board
  • The mediator must be neutral
  • When necessary, mediator paraphrases or restates statements for clarification (in an unbiased manner)
  • Modify the statement or switch topics when discussion becomes stagnant
  • For closure, allow each student thirty seconds to express an opinion
  • Assign a writing activity for follow-up
sample topics
Sample Topics
  • Movies should not be rated.
  • All schools should require uniforms.
  • Couples should not be allowed to have more than two children.
  • Drug & alcohol treament should be free.
  • Abortion should/should not be legal.
  • There is more bad than good in the world.
  • Women who damage their babies (before birth) should go to prison.
  • No marriage until you’re both 21.
  • Smoking should be illegal.
  • People should wait until the age of 21 to get married.
  • Most people on welfare are lazy.
  • Parents should have to pay a fine when their kids skip school.
  • Everyone would be better off without TV.
  • Minors should always be tried as adults.
  • Parents who do not put seatbelts on their children should go to jail.


The AVID Team