Big Questions and How We Answer Them

Posted by: This lesson plan was created by Jana Mohr Lone, based on an activity created by Matthew Lipman and Ann Gazzard for Getting Our Thoughts Together: Instructional Manual to Accompany Elfie, 2003. It is part of a series of lesson plans in Philosophy in Education: Questioning and Dialogue in Schools, by Jana Mohr Lone and Michael D. Burroughs (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).
Designed for: Lower School, Middle School
Estimated Time Necessary: 45 minutes to an hour
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Tool Text

This activity begins by grouping students into groups of three or four. Each student is handed a blank index card and each group is handed an index card on which is written one of the following questions:

  • Do you have to see, hear, or touch something in order to believe it exists?
  • Are you responsible for the environment?
  • Are mistakes good or bad?
  • Should you always agree with your friends?
  • What is more important, to be happy or to do the right thing?
  • Are numbers real?
  • Is life fair?

Each group is given a different question.

 

Next, the students are asked to answer the question given to their group by writing their individual answers on their blank index cards, without talking to anyone else. At this point they do not need to give reasons for their answers.

 

Then, tell the students to listen to all of the instructions before they do anything.

  • If they think that the answer they wrote down is completely true, stand up.
  • If they think that their answer is mostly true, sit on the desk.
  • If they think that their answer is only slightly true, stay seated.
  • If they no longer think that their answer is true, sit on the floor.*

 

After they’ve done this, ask the students who are sitting on the floor why they decided that their answers were no longer true. Facilitate a brief discussion about this.

 

Then ask all the students to sit back down with their groups. Give each group another blank index card. Each student will then share with his or her group their answers to the question the group was given, and the group should decide on an answer with which they all agree. Then they should choose one student to be the group’s scribe, and that student will write the group’s answer on the group’s index card, along with 2-3 reasons the group comes up with to support their answer.

 

The next part of the activity works best if the students can come together in one circle, with each group sitting together.

 

Start by asking one of the groups to read their question and answer, along with the reasons for their answer.

 

Then instruct the other students:

  • If they are completely convinced by the group’s reasoning, stand up.
  • If they are mostly convinced by the group’s reasoning, sit on the desk.
  • If they are only slightly convinced by the group’s reasoning, stay seated.
  • If they are not at all convinced by the group’s reasoning, sit on the floor (or if the students are sitting on the floor at this point, have them kneel).

 

Ask the students who are not at all convinced why this is so. Then facilitate a brief discussion with the whole group about the question and the reasons for answering it in various ways.

 

Repeat this process with each group, spending time having a discussion about each of the questions. If there’s time and the students are engaged in these discussions, this can take two philosophy sessions.

 

Time permitting, it’s nice to end with a reflection question to which the students can respond in writing, in philosophy journals or just on paper, such as:

  • Did your view or your reasons change as you discussed the question with your group and then the whole class? Why or why not?

 

Conclusion

Students often struggle to come up with good reasons for their views, and working with a group to explain to the class why they think a given answer is a good one helps them think more deeply about what they believe and why. The whole class discussions about each question are deepened by having the group of students who have already thought about the question lead off the conversation. This activity is reliably engaging for students and allows every student to be involved.

 

This lesson plan was created by Jana Mohr Lone, based on an activity created by Matthew Lipman and Ann Gazzard for Getting Our Thoughts Together: Instructional Manual to Accompany Elfie, 2003. It is part of a series of lesson plans in Philosophy in Education: Questioning and Dialogue in Schools, by Jana Mohr Lone and Michael D. Burroughs (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).

Big Questions and How We Answer Them

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