Welcome to the Philosophy Toolkit
A searchable index of philosophical lesson plans
The Philosophy Toolkit contains over 250 lesson plans to inspire philosophical discussions with students of all ages. Please explore this free searchable resource, starting with our Getting Started pages below. Contact us with any suggestions or reactions.
Our Links page also offers links to other sites with high quality lesson plans and other resources for philosophy with young people.
We welcome lesson plan submissions for the PLATO Philosophy Toolkit. Submissions should include: grade level, time necessary for the lesson, area, and topics (see other Toolkit lesson plans). Submissions are accepted for review year round. Please submit lesson plans to Education Director Karen Emmerman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking for resources on philosophy and children’s literature?
The Philosophy Toolkit includes over 100 lesson plans for children’s books!
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The Philosophy Toolkit contains a variety of different lesson plans for leading philosophical discussions with young people. Each lesson plan indicates the grade level for which it is appropriate as well as an estimate of the time necessary to complete the lesson. Please explore the Toolkit and contact us with any suggestions, questions, or feedback.
Search by Areas and Grade Levels:
The Toolkit is organized by Area and Grade Levels. In the navigation on the left, you can click “Areas” to get a drop-down menu of academic topics (e.g., History and Social Studies, Science, and Music).
If you would like to search by the age range of the students you work with, click on “Grade Levels” to open a menu listing grades from preschool through high school and beyond.
Search by Philosophical and Other Topics:
If you are looking for lesson plans focused on a particular philosophical area (e.g., ethics, metaphysics, epistemology, and aesthetics), simply enter that term into the search bar to receive a list of lesson plans with that philosophical focus.
If you prefer to search for a more general topic (e.g., friendship), enter any search term you like and receive a list of lesson plans related to that topic.
Looking for inspiration? Take a look at some popular lesson plans from recent user searches by clicking the “Popular Topics” tab in the navigation bar on the left.
It’s important that the teacher/facilitator always keeps in mind that the whole point of doing philosophy with young people is to help the students develop their own thinking! The role of the teacher/facilitator is guide the discussion without attempting to control its content. In other words, do not plan to dictate the substance of the discussion, but rather provide the tools and structure for the discussion to take place among the participants/students.
Remember it’s a balancing act between helping students achieve philosophical clarity and depth and refraining from imposing on the conversation your own preferences for subject matter. This requires sensitivity, skill and practice; push too hard and you’ll monopolize the conversation, but if you do not provide enough structure the students can end up following tangents at length or simply engaging in an opinion-sharing exercise, and making no progress!
To assist you in getting started, we have compiled a list of things to do and not to do that we have found helpful for new and experienced philosophy educators alike.
Things To Do
Hint: Let the discussion flow from the students’ questions and ideas. After reading a story or doing an activity, ask, “What questions did this make you think of?”
- Encourage the students to build on each other’s ideas.
- Show the students that what they say makes you think.
- Encourage the students to speak to one another.
Things Not To Do
- Tell the students their answers are right or wrong.
- Plan to teach the students some philosophical argument or point.
- Insist on your own views.
- Be uncomfortable with or try to fill-in intervals of silence.
- Give a definitive answer to a philosophical question.
- Permit lengthy discussions of relatively unimportant issues.
- Monopolize the discussion.
- Resolve issues for them.
- Try to show the students how philosophically sophisticated you are.
Good Leading Questions to Ask in a Philosophy Session:
- “What did you mean when you said . . .?”
- “That’s an interesting idea. Can you explain what you were thinking when you said that?”
- “When you said . . . , did you mean . . . ?”
- “How does what you just said relate to what ____ said a moment ago?”
- “So if what you just said is true, is ____ also true?”
- “When you said ____, were you assuming ____?”
Things to Think About Before Introducing Social Justice Topics:
Philosophy can be a powerful way for groups to think about issues related to historical and contemporary injustice, exclusion, oppression, and domination. The community of philosophical inquiry can be a helpful format for considering these kinds of complex issues, particularly in the wake of local and national events that warrant reflection and discussion. There are numerous materials practitioners can use to prompt conversations about social justice topics. Before doing so, it is important for facilitators to ask themselves several questions.
Who decides to have this conversation?
The direction of the discussion is determined by the students and not the facilitator. Facilitators can choose a prompt that might stimulate discussion of social justice topics but should not impose their desire to address those topics or their own views of the topics. Students may raise questions unrelated to questions of social justice and wish to discuss those. They have authority over what conversation to have.
Who needs to have this conversation?
We often think about philosophical discussions about social justice issues as “important,” but we must ask ourselves: important for whom? Think carefully about who actually needs to have the conversation you are planning to facilitate. Is it the students from marginalized groups in the room? The students from privileged groups? For example, facilitators often think it is important to discuss race. That is correct as far as it goes, but it is critical to ask oneself who needs to talk and think about race, and with whom. This relates to the third question facilitators should ask themselves.
Who is in the room?
Rather than thinking “this is an important topic to think about with students!” ask yourself “is this an important/valuable/appropriate topic to discuss with these students?”. For example, leading a discussion about race in the United States in a classroom where most students are white and only a few are Black or Brown can be problematic for several reasons. First, students of color already must think about race as they navigate the world day to day. Thinking about race is not novel for them and they may in fact prefer philosophy to be an escape from those burdens. Second, in a classroom that is majority white, Black and Brown students can often be problematically tasked with speaking for the perspectives of marginalized groups. It is not their job to do so, nor should philosophical discussions put them in that position. Finally, it is problematic to subject students from marginalized communities to privileged students’ learning process regarding the injustice in question. For students living with a disability, for example, it is not a learning or growth opportunity to hear other students work through the realization that people with disabilities live rich and varied lives. Facilitators should think about who needs to have the conversation they propose having and how those in the room who may be impacted negatively by such conversations.
How are you, the facilitator, situated relative to the students in the room?
It is critical that facilitators consider their own positionality when planning to discuss topics about social justice issues. Are you a member of the community most impacted by the injustice to be discussed? If not, are you a member of a community that has some responsibility (past or present) for the injustice you would like to discuss? What are the social, racial, religious, and cultural ways in which you are different from your students that are relevant to how they will experience the discussion? For example, for a non-Jewish person, discussing a recent synagogue shooting is very different than it is for Jewish students who may feel fearful for their and their loved ones’ safety when they go to synagogue.
You may need to think about whether you are the best or even an appropriate person to facilitate the discussion. If you are not the classroom teacher, it can be helpful to check in with them to find out if the topic is already under discussion, how it is going, and how the students are doing. It can help to overtly raise the issue of your own positionality and express your understanding that you do not experience the topic to be discussed in the same way as your students. Always be ready to pivot to a different stimulus or topic if students are showing signs of problematic discomfort (some discomfort is normal for philosophy). Commit to listening, taking ownership and apologizing when you are wrong, and saying that you are willing to learn. Finally, engaging in pedagogy research that discusses teacher positionality and how that can impact students’ experiences is a helpful way to gain information and insight into how best to handle these discussions.
What is the power dynamic between you and your students?
By virtue of being adults and being in a facilitation role, P4C facilitators are already in a position of power relative to the students. This is true even when we work assiduously to decentralize the classroom. There may also be other relationships of power in the room, depending on what privileges the facilitator has that the students do not (e.g., race, class, gender, etc.). Differences in power can influence whether and how students share their thinking. Responding to age/power differences is often also mediated by culture. This is all important to consider before embarking on a discussion related to social justice.
How can you help the students end the session feeling healthy and safe?
Should you decide to proceed with the discussion, it is important to make a plan that leaves time for self-care practices at the end. Pick an activity that encourages movement, mindfulness, journaling, energy building, or connection to help students close out the session in a healthy way.
For more thoughts on how to facilitate philosophy sessions with young people, read this article on “The Cultivation of Philosophical Sensitivity”
Most classroom philosophy sessions are arenas for discussions about the ideas and questions of philosophy, as opposed to being primarily focused on what historical and contemporary philosophers have to say about these ideas and questions. That is, we engage young people in the practice of philosophy. A powerful model for this educational approach is the community of philosophical inquiry.
Lipman and the Community of Inquiry
Matthew Lipman’s detailed conception of the community of inquiry—in which students and teacher(s) learn from one another— was among his most significant contributions to the field.
The community of inquiry, as Lipman conceived it, includes the following characteristics:
- The enterprise is based on mutual respect;
- The students build on one another’s ideas and follow the argument where it leads;
- Students challenge each other to supply reasons for their opinions;
- Students assist one another in drawing out inferences from what has been said; and
- Students endeavor to identify one another’s assumptions.
The members of the community of inquiry come together in a spirit of intellectual freedom to explore the more problematic and puzzling aspects of situations and curriculum concepts, rather than emphasizing the “facts.”
The Community of Philosophical Inquiry
The community of inquiry model can be used to explore any subject matter in the classroom. The special features of a community of philosophical inquiry (CPI) involve the content (i.e., philosophical topics). Philosophical topics examine meanings, attempt to clarify concepts, and generally engage abstract questions whose answers are contestable, rather than final or settled.
In a CPI, the students’ philosophical questions shape the scope of the inquiry. Teachers guide the students in inquiry, but do not control the content of the discussion and often don’t know ahead of time what the topic or topics under consideration will be.
The teacher’s role here is robust, but subtle. Teachers pay close attention to the initiation and progress of the dialogue, look for connections among what students say, ask for clarification and reasons, and are attuned to the philosophical content of questions and ideas that might otherwise be lost. This entails a delicate balance between supporting students’ attainment of philosophical clarity and depth and refraining from imposing the teacher’s own preferences for subject matter and the direction of the discussion.
Central features of a Community of Philosophical Inquiry (CPI)
- The content is philosophical: Members of a CPI are engaged in a structured, collaborative inquiry aimed at building meaning and acquiring understanding through the examination of philosophical questions or concepts of interest to the participants.
- Epistemic Modesty: A CPI entails a consensus of ‘epistemological modesty’—an acknowledgement that all members of the group, including the facilitator, are fallible, and therefore hold views that could end up being mistaken. Teachers in a CPI facilitate students’ ability to think for themselves about the fundamental aspects of human existence. We demonstrate a reticence about advocating for our own philosophical views and model a comfort with uncertainty and with the fact that we don’t have final settled answers philosophical questions.
- Avoiding the use of jargon: Participants in a CPI generally refrain from using much technical philosophical language or referring often to the work of professional philosophers. This helps to ensure that the group focuses on exploring the questions themselves and not the past or current history of the subject among professional philosophers.
- Intellectual Safety: The CPI is an environment of intellectual safety, one in which any question or comment is acceptable, so long as it does not belittle or devalue others in the group, and which allows trust and a corresponding willingness to present one’s thoughts to participants. The teacher models openness and respect for others’ ideas and constructs a structured space that invites the students to engage thoughtfully and with an appreciation for multiple perspectives
While an intellectually safe learning community involves trust, respect, and an atmosphere conducive to taking intellectual risks, it does not promise comfort. Communities of inquiry are dedicated to the open and rigorous exploration of difficult and contestable issues and the intellectual growth that results, the process of which can often provoke feelings of perplexity and uncertainty. This can be an uncomfortable experience. Feeling intellectually safe, therefore, is not to feel complacent or unchallenged—it is to feel supported in one’s struggles to make sense of the world for ourselves.
One practical tool to begin to fashion an intellectually safe atmosphere is to help the students set the rules for the community of inquiry at the beginning of the year. The rules can be posted so that they are always visible during philosophy sessions, and you can remind the students of them from time to time.
Think of someone you know who you think is a really good person. What makes that person a good person?
Think of something that’s pretty good.
Now think of something that’s better than pretty good, that’s good.
Now think of something that’s better than that, that’s really good.
Think of something that’s pretty bad.
Now think of something that’s worse than pretty bad, that’s bad.
Now think of something that’s worse than that, that’s really bad.
Now think of something that’s both good and bad.
Now think of something that’s neither good nor bad.
Do you have memories that make you feel a certain way?
Can you have a memory that makes you happy?
What is happiness?
Can you be happy but feel sad?
Can you feel sad but be happy?
Can you be happy and sad at the same time?
What makes you happy?
Think of something:
You’re glad has happened
You wish had happened
You wish hadn’t happened
You’re glad didn’t happen
Think a big thought (about something small)
Think a small thought (about something big)
Think a really hard thought (about something soft)
Think softly. Can you?
Think a funny thought
Think a serious thought
Think of a part of your body: think of your foot
Think of your hand
Think of your head
Think of your mind: What is your mind?
Think of something that’s true: What is true?
Think of something that’s false: what is false?
How do you know the difference between true and false?
Think the biggest thought you can.
Think the tiniest thought you can.
Think the oldest thought you can.
Think the newest thought you can. Can you think of an even newer one?
Think of something really good.
Think of something really bad.
What makes something good or bad?
Let’s start by all thinking together.
What’s a thought we can share?
Can we all think about the same thing?
Let’s all think about the sky. Are we all thinking the same thing?
Let’s all think about a dog. Are we all thinking the same thing?
Can we all have different thoughts? Is it possible that every one could think of something different?
What are you thinking about right now? What about now?
How long is now?
Let’s all think really really hard…about something really soft.
Let’s all have really big thoughts…about something small.
Let’s all think of the same thing
Let’s all think of something different
What’s your favorite thought?
What’s your least favorite thought?
Let’s all think about something we know.
What is something we wonder about?
Do you ever wonder what it means to be a friend?
What can you be friends with?
Think of something in the past
Think of something in the future
Think to yourself
Think to someone else
Think something you know
Think something you don’t know
What makes something what it is?
What makes a duck a duck?
What makes a chair a chair?
What makes your teacher your teacher?
Think the biggest thought you can.
Think the tiniest thought you can.
Think the oldest thought you can.
Think the newest thought you can. Can you think of an even newer one?
Think of something about yourself.
Think of something about someone else.
What’s the difference between you and someone else?
What makes you you?
Let’s start by wondering. What are you wondering about?
Can you wonder about what you’re wondering about?
What are you thinking about? Can you think about what you’re thinking about?
How many of you are thinking about tomorrow? What’s it like to think a thought about the future?
Can you think a thought about the past?
What are thoughts like? What are they made of? Can you build thoughts?
Think of an elephant. Now put a hat on it. Now, on top of the hat, put a bird. Now change the color of it.
What color are thoughts? Can you think a green thought? A red thought? What about a super-bright thought?
Can thoughts make you feel things? Can a thought make you happy? Can it make you laugh? What about scared? Can a thought make you scared?
Here’s a story…
When it’s dark out, I….
Let’s all think. What are you thinking about?
Can you think about what you’re thinking about?
Let’s try wondering. What are you wondering about?
Can you wonder about what you’re wondering about?
Do you ever wonder about what is real?
What’s something that’s real?
What’s something that isn’t real?
Can you think of something that isn’t real, but seems real?
Can you think of something that is real but doesn’t seem real?
How can you tell if something is real?
Are dreams real?
Are thoughts real?
Are you real?
Something I wish that was real is…
Is anyone NOT thinking?
What are you NOT thinking about?
Do you ever think about yourself?
When you think about yourself, what do you think about?
Can you think about your foot? Your hand? Your head?
Can you think about your mind?
When you think about your mind, what is doing the thinking?
Can you imagine you were something else? What?
Can you imagine your were nothing? If you were nothing, what would you be?
Do you ever wonder who you are?
How do you know who you are?
Could someone convince you that you weren’t you? How?
When I think of myself, I know…
Write down something you believe and something you know.
Write down something you know about yourself.
Write down something you don’t know about yourself.
Write down something pretty much everyone who knows you knows about you.
Write down something hardly anyone who knows you knows about you.
Think of someone you think of as a really good friend. What makes this person a good friend?
Write down something that you think is beautiful and two reasons why you think it’s beautiful, and write down something that you think is ugly and two reasons why you think it’s ugly.
What is your favorite art form (music, literature, visual arts, dance, poetry, film, theater, etc.)? What about it do you like most?
Think of something (and write down if appropriate):
Feels really good
Feels really awful
Think a red thought
Think a blue thought
Think a green thought
Think a yellow thought
Think a purple thought
Think an orange thought
Think a clear transparent thought
If you had to describe yourself using only 5 words, what would they be? Write them down.
Think of something that’s real.
Is there a way it might not be real?
Think of something that’s not real.
Is there a way it could be real?
Think of (and write down) something that happened (or is happening)
In the Present
1 minute ago
1 hour ago
1 day ago
1 year ago
5 years ago
10 years ago
Your earliest memory
Now, return to the present and think of something:
1 minute from now
1 hour from now
1 day from now
1 year from now
5 years from now
10 years from now
As far in the future as you can imagine
Something that is
Something that was
Something that will be
Something that won’t be
Something that could be
Something that can’t be
Something that should be
Something that shouldn’t be
Something you wish was
Something that exists
Something that doesn’t exist
Something that might exist
Something that might not exist
Something that could exist be doesn’t
Something that doesn’t exist but could
Something that used to exist
Something the will exist
Something you will existed
Social and Political Philosophy
Think of something that’s fair.
Think of something that’s unfair.
Think of something that’s both fair and unfair.
Think of something that’s neither fair nor unfair.
If you had the power to decide on one rule that should govern society, what would it be?
Think about something
Wonder about something
Think about thinking
Remember about remembering
Wonder about wondering
Think about remembering
Remember about wondering
Wonder about thinking
Think about remembering about wondering
Remember about wondering about thinking
Wonder about thinking about remembering
Developing an awareness of the philosophical dimensions of our lives – sometimes characterized by philosopher Jana Mohr Lone as developing “philosophical sensitivity” – is a key outcome of engaging in philosophy at an early age. For example, as children learn to recognize when situations have an ethical dimension, they begin to appreciate that how they respond in such situations will help determine both whether those situations become more or less good, right or just, and the kind of persons they are becoming.
The central method of philosophical inquiry is careful, logical, and rational thinking.
Philosophy has always been preoccupied with good thinking, with logic being one of its oldest branches. While formal logic is beyond the skill of most young children, they are very capable of the informal logical operations that constitute basic reasoning, including:
- Giving reasons
- Considering evidence
- Agreeing and disagreeing
- Giving examples and counter-examples
- Making comparisons and distinctions
Philosophy helps young people learn how to reason and think well, and to hold respectful and rational conversations with their peers. Philosophy also helps students learn how to have confidence in their own unique ideas.
Philosophical discussions provide students with opportunities to practice important communicative and social skills.
Additionally, young people who participate in disciplined philosophical dialogue can learn to overcome shyness, aggression and attention-grabbing behaviors for the sake of cooperating in a kind of group work they find meaningful.
When engaging in a philosophical discussion, students practice such skills as:
For more about the importance of philosophy for young people, see the page “Why Philosophy?”
The teacher or “facilitator” of philosophical dialogues does not lead students to a predetermined answer or attempt to validate every opinion as equally sound.
The goal of a philosophical dialogue is not agreement or final resolution, but that all participants be able to decide what each thinks is most reasonable, whether those judgments are in line with the views of a majority or a minority of the other participants or is one student’s view alone.
A philosophy teacher should model and prompt careful thinking within a discussion and help students see the structure of their arguments and encourage them to work towards finding the most reasonable answer.
Many different approaches and tools can be used to ensure that the materials used to inspire philosophical inquiry are age-appropriate:
- Children’s literature
- Activities and games
- Film clips
- Stories the children bring to the classroom
- Current events
- Personal experiences
It is important that the materials used in a philosophy session not only present one or more philosophical themes, but also present them as contestable – preferably, a variety of perspectives on the theme should be represented.
Facilitating philosophy sessions in schools requires someone who is curious and loves thinking about complex ideas, but doesn’t think s/he knows everything!
The following are some helpful resources for deepening your philosophical awareness.
For more resources on doing philosophy with young people, check out our Media and Reference Library!
The Problems of Philosophy
by Bertrand Russell
This slim, classic volume offers an overview of philosophical issues including the nature of reality and the value of philosophy. It does not touch on ethics or social or political philosophy. This work is best for adult readers.
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What Does It All Mean? A Very Short Introduction to Philosophy
by Thomas Nagel
Even slimmer than Russell’s classic, this modern overview of philosophical issues is an easy read for most adults and high school students, and probably by many upper-level middle school students. As the author puts it, “This book is a brief introduction to philosophy for people who don’t know the first thing about the subject.” Nagel’s chapters consider nine problems of philosophy, in a very engaging style.
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by Christopher Phillips
Phillips began the Socrates Café movement, which sets up adult philosophy discussion groups at bookstores and other free-access public venues. Phillips’ book is based on the idea that philosophy is something you do –through debate and discussion – rather than simply study, a very appropriate approach for young people. Questions spotlighted in this book include: “What is insanity?” “How do you know when you know yourself?” “What is a world?” “Does anyone have the right to be ignorant?” and “Why question?” Because the tone is colloquial rather than scholarly, it helps those without a philosophy background grasp the nature of philosophical discussion.
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