Dream Activity

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Area: History and Social Studies, Language Arts and Literature, Math and Logic, Other Areas, Science
Grade Level: High School & Beyond, Middle School, Primary/Elementary School
Topics: dreams, Epistemology, metaphysics, reality
Estimated Time Necessary: 50-60 minutes

Lesson Plan

Contemplating the nature of dreams
Students will think together about dreaming and the nature of dreams.
Using dreams as a way to think about the nature of reality
Using dreams as a starting place, students can think together about reality - what is real, what is unreal, and whether there is a clean line between real and unreal.

Part 1:

Have each person think of a dream they’ve had recently. After giving them a moment to think, go around in a circle and have each person share a bit about their dream. (Elementary school students may get exceptionally excited about sharing their dreams and may want to share an enormous amount of detail about their dream or share multiple dreams. They may need to be reminded to wrap things up so that everyone has a chance to share.)

Part 2:

After everyone has had a chance to share, pose the question: How do you know the dream you had wasn’t real?

People will usually come up with several potential criteria to use to distinguish between what happens in a dream and what happens while they are awake. Try to get people to question each criterion to see how good it might be.

For example, someone may suggest that you can’t feel pain in dreams, so if they feel pain, they know they’re awake. As a follow-up, survey the class to see if anyone has experienced pain in a dream. Generally, whatever the criterion, at least one or two people will raise their hands. Of the people who raised their hands, ask for a volunteer to share a bit about what it (e.g., experiencing pain in a dream) was like. In the case that no one raises their hand for a particular criterion and you (the facilitator) have experienced it in a dream, feel free to share what that experience was like for you to try to further the discussion on that criterion.

The best way to conduct this activity is by means of Socratic Questioning that responds directly to what people are bringing up in the discussion by posing additional questions to get them to think more deeply about it. However, for particularly quiet groups, you can use the questions on the Discussion Questions tab to help generate discussion.

Part 3:

Near the end of the discussion, after they’ve had a chance to consider some potential criteria by which they might be able to determine what is a dream and what isn’t, pose the question: How can you tell if you’re dreaming right now? This question can either be posed to generate a brief discussion or as a question for people to think about more later.


Discussion Questions

  • How can we know that we “know” things?
  • Follow-up question: Can you know that you’re in a dream/awake when you are?
  • Why do you think that you’re awake right now?
  • Follow-up question: Do [the reasons given by participants] ever happen in dreams?
  • What is/isn’t meant by “reality”?
  • Are dreams “real” in some way?
  • Is the reality you experience when you’re awake “unreal” in some way?
  • Can you determine if what you’re experiencing right now is real or not?
This lesson plan was created for PLATO by: Nic Jones, University of Washington.

This work is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

If you would like to change or adapt any of PLATO's work for public use, please feel free to contact us for permission at info@plato-philosophy.org.