model, developed by philosophy professor Zahary Seech and adapted
for classroom use by Dale Fountain of Mount Tahoma High School in
Tacoma, Washington, includes a movement component, which can be particularly
beneficial to some students who are kinesthetic learners.
Students prepare for the discussion by reading material on an issue
and deciding which position they will take; alternatively, the teacher
can assign positions. The chairs in the classroom are arranged in
a U shape. Students at the bottom of the U are those who are neutral
or undecided. Students on opposing sides of the issue sit across from
each other. Students can move at any time during the discussion (in
fact, they are encouraged to do so).
A student on one side of the issue begins by explaining why he/she
is taking the pro or con position. A student on the other side then
briefly summarizes the previous speaker’s point before beginning
his/her comments. The discussion continues with students on the two
sides taking turns speaking, always summarizing the previous speaker’s
point before providing their own comments. After a student speaks,
he/she must wait until two students on his/her side have spoken before
speaking again (this number could be raised if necessary to keep students
The teacher can call time-out to clarify, reflect on the process or
content, or refocus students.
Students in the neutral zone must take notes on both sides of the
argument and can ask questions of students on either side. When students
move, they should be able to explain why their views changed. At the
end of the discussion, one student from each team summarizes the viewpoints
presented by that team during the discussion. Students in the neutral
zone must then report on whether any of the arguments they heard have
caused them to take a position on the issue.
for students explaining the Philosophical Chairs procedure
An example of a lesson using the Philosophical Chairs discussion model
Rights for Ex-Felons (Constitutional Rights Foundation).