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With so much going on in our world today, there is a need to teach our students about the importance of respect and tolerance. Philosophical Chairs is a teaching technique that is similar to a debate but really acts as a forum for classroom discussion that promotes mutual understanding, safeguards respectful conversation, and causes deep engagement into the subject matter. Philosophical chairs are rooted in the concepts of listening and taking others opinions into consideration.

The necessary steps to incorporate philosophical chairs into the curriculum are as follows:

  1. Pick a topic: I have had students discuss issues such as, should we get rid of social media?, should there be single sex schools?, should we change gun laws?, or should students be allowed to select their own teacher? Once students have understood their topic, they then sit in a designated area, usually ‘for’, ‘against’, or ‘undecided’.
  2. Establish the ground rules: Philosophical chairs works very well because no one is allowed to interrupt the speaker when they are speaking, and students learn to respectfully listen to other people’s opinions uninterrupted. You also have to summarize the speaker’s words prior to speaking about why you agree or disagree with them, and this shows them that you are being considerate and listened to what they have to say. Finally, another important rule is that students have to wait until three other people have spoken before they can speak again, which allows for all voices to be heard.
  3. Keep an open mind: I find it so interesting watching students be so staunchly inclined towards a position, and after another student passionately voices their opinion, watching that same student switch sides. This underscores the idea of keeping an open mind.
  4. Reflection: The students should come away learning something new from each philosophical chair and have an opportunity to hear the opinions of others.

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By affording students with the opportunity to share their ideas, opinions, and beliefs in a safe environment, we model for them the way we should all strive to communicate with each other in such trying times as we are facing today – I am confident that we are increasing tolerance and respect – one philosophical chair at a time!

Kelisa Wing is the Assistant Principal at West Point Elementary School in West Point, NY. She is a 2016 ASCD Emerging Leader and the 2017 Department of Defense Education Activity Teacher of the Year. She is an Army veteran and a proud graduate of the University of Maryland University College and the University of Phoenix where she earned her Educational Specialist degree.

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Article References:

“What are Philosophical Chairs?” (2016). Retrieved from <https://www.sisd.net/Page/33901>


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Kelisa Wing

Kelisa Wing

Assistant Principal

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