Category Archives: Guest Blogger

Peter Worley | Why use stories for doing philosophy with children?


First of all stories engage. When a teller tells a story well the audience visualize the story so that it seems to happen before them. If you want children to think, first of all they must be engaged.

Secondly, stories enable children to grasp complex ideas very naturally, where in the abstract, they would be lost. Tell the story of ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ from The Odyssey and children can follow the complexities of ethical dilemmas that would be nigh on impossible for them in the abstract.9781441118141 Once Upon an If

Thirdly, stories can be used to activate the children as moral agents. You can stop the story at the crisis point, the difficult decision or the conflict, and instead of simply reading on, you could ask the class questions: ‘What do you think [the character] should do?’, ‘What do you think [the character] will do?’, ‘What would you do?’ and ‘What do…

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Peter Worley | Thought Adventure 41: Here and Elsewhere – thinking about migration and identity


P4C and the curriculum

There is a popular approach to doing philosophy with children that involves presenting a stimulus (often a picture book), having the children formulate questions, gathering and sorting the questions and then having the children vote on a question to discuss. There can be great value in this student-centred approach to discussions, however it can make doing P4C in the curriculum more difficult. The reason for this is that, according to the principles of a standard P4C Community of Inquiry in the UK, the children significantly determine the direction of the discussion. So, if you’ve chosen the picture book Elmer by David McKee because you want the class to explore the notion of ‘difference’, there is always the danger that the children will focus on a completely different theme with the question that they vote on or that they naturally move towards during the discussion, such as…

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Be a Philosopher!

World Philosophy Day is here again on Thursday 19th November.

Download free lesson plans from our website to inspire your classes; don a beret or a beard and get thinking!

In Peter Worley’s latest book, 40 lessons to get children thinking (one for every week of the school year, plus a spare, because philosophy isn’t just for a day!), he wants to inspire young thinkers to become philosophers.

The downloadable appendix ‘Be a philosopher‘ can be handed out to your classes to help them do just that. He suggests:

  • Drink ‘n’ Think: Pour yourself a drink: a cup of tea, a cup of coffee or your favourite soft drink. Sit down somewhere comfortable and drink the drink slowly, thinking only about one chosen question for as long as it takes you to finish your drink. Talking to yourself out loud is permitted.
  • Thought ‘n’ Talk: Find someone (a teacher – if they have time, a friend or family member) who is willing to spend five or more minutes discussing a chosen question with you. Read them the question and then discuss it together.
  • Write ‘n’ Reason: Take a piece of paper (or your philosopher’s notebook) and write your chosen question at the top of a clean page. Either simply free-write (just write what comes into your head) in answer to the question or, if you prefer, use the structure suggested in the attached document.This ties in with a previous article written by Peter on Innovate My School: improving writing through dialogue

In Be a philosopher you will find the writing structure and some suggested questions – of course, you can always come up with your own philosophical questions to ponder.

The Philosophy Foundation this year is running an event at the Mercers’ Company on Friday 20th November in celebration of World Philosophy Day – we have children from some of our London schools ready to run philosophy sessions with other students in a ‘Philosophical Agora’, plus we will be running philosophy sessions with all 150 students at this sold out event.

And join us on Saturday 21st November at Conway Hall for the third annual Philosophy Now Festival. We are running sessions for young philosophers aged 4-7 and 8-14. Our sessions are nearly sold out, but there are plenty of other philosophical adventures happening all day, and the award ceremony for the Contribution to the Fight Against Stupidity, this year won by Cressida Cowell.

Happy thinking.

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CPD: How Not To Do It

I’d like to start with a question:

How can we become better teachers?

Some of the answers that have been suggested (not always by teachers) are: performance targets and rewards; teaching from a centrally-designed curriculum; higher qualifications and study; INSET sessions; plain old experience. While all of these have their place, I am interested is something else, and I would like you now to answer a second question – as a way of getting an answer to the first:

How have I become a better teacher up until now?

One thing that I predict features highly on most people’s list is: help from colleagues. So often a chance comment or lament in the staffroom is picked up on by someone else and sparks a helpful conversation, some tips, and some guidance. We then put our friend’s ideas into practice and the next time she sees us, she says ‘How did it go?’. We tell her what went well or badly and she responds again, suggesting further material or an alternative. And what’s more, a year later we in turn will be helping another colleague, passing on that same advice, perhaps with a twist of our own, and perhaps not even remembering where we got the idea in the first place – so much is it embedded in our daily practice.

This informal process goes on in all workplaces, and most of us have gained a lot this way. A culture and network forms around us through which we exchange our ideas. True, there will be some people around you that are bosom buddies while others you learn from simply by determining never to be like them. But the network is vital, and if people are cut off from it – because they have become isolated in their location or alienated from the group, for example – they feel the lack.

When I first got very interested in the idea of professional development, and started to investigate some of the research, I found that the experience I described above is more or less a template for excellence in the transfer of skills.

One piece of research I found, Lieberman and Wood (2002) – link below, explored the connection between teachers’participation in networks and the transfer of practice between the teachers’ learning environment (eg a course they went on) and their classrooms. One of the students in the study gave this description of why they had managed to implement what they had been taught:

“I found that the experience and support passed on by other teachers was much more valuable to me than any workbook [or] step-by-step method that had promised to be the quick fix.”

A problem then arises for someone like me, who is regularly asked to contribute to the CPD of teachers in the form of INSET. Don’t get me wrong: I love doing them, because I like meeting teachers, sharing what I do, planting intellectual seeds, and… well, yes… because I do rather like the sound of my own voice. No, the problem is that I am not sure what good they do for the participants.

I really try to make it relevant, to mix some theory with some anecdotes, to have discussion as well as instruction and I always include a few practical tips that teachers can take into the classroom the next day. I hope this makes me one of the good guys. But where the system falls down is that, however informed or inspired teachers might be when they walk out of the training room, there is no mechanism to continue these ideas into their daily professional lives.

Where INSET does work is to make people familiar with new ideas or get them up to date with statutory rules/best practice. It doesn’t change what you do in the classroom. Or to be fair: it doesn’t change it very much very often.

So does that mean we can all go home – or get back to our lesson prep – 90 minutes earlier on a Tuesday evening and forget about INSET – just leave it all to our wonderful internal network? Unfortunately, one problem with the network is that the ideas that you are exposed to depend on the ones that exist in your own narrow circle of teaching colleagues. And that would leave the direction of your development down to luck.

For this reason, we do need a CPD programme that makes use of external providers and ideas from other schools, industries and traditions. But it needs to mimic our informal network as closely as possible. Here are some of the features that make the informal network effective:

  •  Access – we can find our colleagues quite easily, and find a moment to chat
  • Two-way communication – we are listened to just as much as we listen
  • Time lapse – there are gaps between the stages of our learning, allowing us to process ideas
  • Flexible – your colleague/mentor will respond to your ongoing feedback, constantly altering their advice
  • Open – the goalposts can move as we realise where they should be; let’s see what works!
  • Familiarity – your colleague knows you, your working environment – and often your class!

Here are two ways that we can incorporate these features into a CPD plan:

  1. Send one teacher out for full training in a new approach and then get that person to disseminate the ideas across the school. That doesn’t mean, of course, that you get them to do one INSET for the others and it’s job done. What it means is that after an INSET to introduce the main ideas, the teacher in the know needs to have a series of meetings with interested colleagues. The meetings can be short – 20 mins of PPA time – and irregular but they need to happen. Inevitably a lot of the progress will be made outside of this framework, as the people involved exchange thoughts over coffee and in the corridor, but – and this bit is important – the informal stuff will happen a lot more if there is an official process going on.
  1. Demand that CPD providers abandon the fire-and-forget model of descending on the school for a few hours and then disappearing in a cloud of exhaust; get them to put some thought into continuity. No teacher or training professional worth their salt will claim that parking a group of people in front of a power point and ending with a few questions is a proven way of getting people to learn. We wouldn’t teach our children that way. With online communication so simple now, the least they can offer is a blog or forum for teachers to ask questions once they’ve tried to implement the new ideas. What other lead-in and follow-up can they provide? Can they visit the school again a few weeks later?
  1. Don’t insist that all teachers do all the new stuff. The ‘development’ part of CPD refers to the organic growth process and so we should be considering what is right for each teacher to do next. One teacher might be inspired and invigorated by story-telling or blended learning but those same techniques could end up being the bane of another teacher’s life. That doesn’t mean that those other teachers get left behind; they can’t keep on opting out. They need to find things that they want to explore – and hopefully share.

If you are the sort of person who makes these decisions for the school, you may be getting a nasty feeling that some of these projects might cost more. They will. But you may be comparing them to the cost of things that don’t work. Perhaps consider having fewer initiatives and CPD objectives than you have now but for the same budget that you have now.

If you are reading this as a teacher, you may not be the main decision-maker on some of these issues, but remember that headteachers need people like you, reading articles like this, and telling them which CPD providers you want next term. After all, they have to get their ideas from someone too.

Originally published by The Teacher Development Trust. Thanks to Alistair Jeffrey for this:

For further research on what makes effective CPD for teachers, see the paper from the AQA Centre for Education Research and Policy here


Lieberman & Wood 2002 –,d.d24

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The Talking Skull – thinking about making claims

From Peter Worley’s new book due out in September 2015, given here as part of Keystone Workshop held on March 25th in St Albans.

Equipment needed and preparation:

  • (Optional) something to stand in for the skull and Enitan’s head, such as two balls (in addition to the talk-ball).
  • (Optional) have the Thoughting ‘Talking is like…’ ready to project or handout.

Starting age: 9 years

Key concepts / vocabulary: knowledge, belief, reasons, miracles, magic, talk, communication, communicate

Subject links: RE, Science, Literacy, PSHE

Key controversies: Should we believe people’s accounts of miraculous events? Is talking a good thing?

Quote: ‘There are only three possibilities. Either your sister [Lucy] is telling lies, or she is mad, or she telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad… we must assume that she is telling the truth.’ – The Professor in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

No testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact which it endeavours to establish.’ – David Hume ‘Of Miracles’

Key facilitation tool: Quotes. Discuss. – In the extension activities section, this session suggests the use of a quote (from C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe) as a stimulus. Statements can be very effective catalysts to thought, sometimes more effective than a question, as they can provoke a visceral response. Compare these two ways of putting an issue to someone: a) ‘Are girls or boys better at writing?’ b) ‘Girls are better than boys at writing.’

Session Plan:

Do: read or tell the following story. It is only a little more than a synopsis, so feel free to embellish the story in your retelling, if you choose to tell it. (See Once Upon an If: ‘Sheherazad’s Handbook’ pp. 20-55.)

Say: A long time ago, somewhere in Africa, there was once an honest, sensible man, called Enitan. One day, while walking through the jungle by himself, he found a human skull lying on the ground. He wondered how the skull had come to be there so he said, out loud to the skull, ‘How did you get here?’ not expecting an answer.

         ‘Talking brought me here,’ said the skull. Amazed and terrified at what he had just witnessed, Enitan ran all the rest of the way home.

He went to see the village chief and told him about the talking skull he’d found in the jungle, thinking that this would make him famous in the village.

Start Question: Should the village chief believe Enitan?

Possible Further Questions (you do not need to go through all of these):

  • The man’s story is extraordinary, so should the chief believe him?
  • If the story is true, then should the chief believe him?
  • Should Enitan believe himself?
  • Is it a miracle?
  • What is a miracle?
  • Could there be any other explanations for the skull talking?
  • If someone tells you something unbelievable should you believe him or her?
  • If so, under what circumstances should you believe an unbelievable account?
  • Try using the Professor’s test from The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe with Enitan’s claim (see quote above). Is the Professor’s test a good way of testing people’s claims?

         The chief did not believe him. ‘But I DID see a talking skull! I did! I DID!’ Enitan protested.

         ‘Okay,’ said the chief, ‘I, and two of my guards, will go with you; if the skull speaks I will reward you with treasures and fame, but if it does not… then I shall reward you with death.’

The chief, his guards and Enitan returned to the place where he had found the skull. Enitan bent down and said to the skull, ‘How did you get here?’ The skull said… nothing.

         ‘HOW DID YOU GET HERE?’ said Enitan again, louder this time. Still the skull remained silent. The king turned to his guards and said, ‘This man has also wasted my time! Kill him!’ So they chopped off his head which fell to the ground next to the skull with a thud. The king and his guards returned to their village. Once they had departed, the skull opened it’s grinning mouth and said to Enitan’s head, ‘How did you get here?’ and Enitan’s head replied, ‘Talking brought me here.’

Comprehension Question: Why did Enitan’s head reply, ‘Talking brought me here,’?

Start Question: Is talking a good thing?

Possible Further Questions:

  • What is talking?
  • What does talking help us achieve?
  • What would we loose if we lost the ability to talk?
  • What would the world be like without talking?
  • When and how might talking be bad?

Say: No one noticed: not Enitan, the chief or his guards, but lying in or on the ground, littered all over the place, were many more human skulls!

Comprehension Question: Why are there lots of skulls?

Extension activities:

Task: Communicate something without talking

  • Have someone leave the room.
  • Identify an item in the room to another child.
  • Set the second child the task of communicating something – anything – about the item but without talking or using words in any way.


  • Can they do it?
  • How easy is it?
  • What methods did they use?

‘Talking is like…’: a simile exercise


  • Go round the circle and say ‘Talking is like…’ to each child.
  • Give them 3 seconds to say a word without repeating another child’s suggestion (employing ‘the different answer rule’).
  • Gather the words on the board as you go around.
  • Once everyone has had a go, ask all the children to challenge the words: for example, ‘I don’t understand how talking can be like X…’
  • Ask the class, as a whole, to respond and attempt to explain why talking is like X.
  • Here is a Thoughting based on the exercise that could be used in a similar way: ask the children to challenge the words in the Thoughting and have the class respond in its defence. If the children struggle to grasp the simile/metaphor essence of the task you could read the Thoughting first, in order to give them a flavour of the task, and then run the activity, stipulating that they should not repeat anything from the poem.

Talking is like…

A tool,

An instrument,

A cloak,

A weapon,

A map,

A metal detector,



A virus,

A wireless

Kind of


A finger

That Points

To the farthest


With talk

I walk

But do not


With talk

My thought-

Hawk flies

To you.

Thoth and Thamus: for-and-against

In The Philosophy Shop (page 256) Claire Field retold an Egyptian myth told by Plato called ‘Thoth and Thamus’. In it, Thoth (the ancient Egyptian god of intelligence) is a god who invents new things and Thamus is a king who has to agree to Thoth’s new inventions before they will be given to the people. Thoth invents writing and the two argue about the merits and demerits of giving writing to the people. Claire has the class argue, with each other and on behalf of Thoth and Thamus, the ‘pros and cons’ of writing. When the myth is used in this way, its general application can easily be seen. A part from the ‘for-and-against’ dialogue opportunities Thoth and Thamus affords, it also has potential for the children’s written work. Have the children write their own dialogue with the two characters Thoth and Thamus arguing over the merits (Thoth) and demerits (Thamus) of X. ‘X’ could be ‘writing’ or ‘talking’, but it could also be ‘cars’, ‘plastic’, ‘green energy’, ‘democracy’ and so on. (See ‘The Cat That Barked’ in Once Upon an If, page 112, for more on dialogues and dialogue writing.)

Talk Ball

Play the BBC Radio 4 game Just a Minute! (Here called ‘Talk Ball’ because a minute is too long). This is when a player has to speak on a subject, while holding the talk-ball, for a set time period without hesitation, repetition or deviation. I begin with a 10 second time period, then, when someone succeeds, extend the time to 15 seconds, then 20 seconds etc. (See also Robert Fisher’s Games For Thinking.) The class choose up to eight topics, but which of the topics each speaker has to speak about, is chosen randomly.

Related Resources:

Ted Hughes’s poem The Thought Fox

The Philosophy Shop: The Txt Book, Thoth and Thamus in The Philosophy Shop and conduct the same discussion around talking instead of writing. Task Question: If you were Thamus would you allow Thoth to introduce talking to the people?

The If Odyssey: ‘Nobody’s Home (The Cyclops)’ especially the online supplement on the companion website ‘Through a Philosopher’s eye: Cyclops’. In some versions of the Greek myth of the Trojan war, the character of Palamedes meets an ironic, tragic end when, he – the so called inventor or writing – is undone by a written letter. In revenge for Palamedes’s uncovering of Odysseus’s attempt to escape being sent to Troy, Odysseus fakes a letter from Palamedes to Priam. Palamedes is stoned to death by Odysseus.

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Let’s stop trying to teach students critical thinking

By Dennis Hayes, University of Derby

Socrates, the father of critical thinking.
lentina_x, CC BY-NC-SA

Many teachers say they strive to teach their students to be critical thinkers. They even pride themselves on it; after all, who wants children to just take in knowledge passively?

But there is a problem with this widespread belief. The truth is that you can’t teach people to be critical unless you are critical yourself. This involves more than asking young people to “look critically” at something, as if criticism was a mechanical task.

As a teacher, you have to have a critical spirit. This does not mean moaning endlessly about education policies you dislike or telling students what they should think. It means first and foremost that you are capable of engaging in deep conversation. This means debate and discussion based on considerable knowledge – something that is almost entirely absent in the educational world. It also has to take place in public, with parents and others who are not teachers, not just in the classroom or staffroom.

The need for teachers to engage in this kind of deep conversation has been forgotten, because they think that being critical is a skill. But the Australian philosopher John Passmore criticised this idea nearly half a century ago:

If being critical consisted simply in the application of a skill then it could in principle be taught by teachers who never engaged in it except as a game or defensive device, somewhat as a crack rifle shot who happened to be a pacifist might nevertheless be able to teach rifle-shooting to soldiers. But in fact being critical can be taught only by men who can themselves freely partake in critical discussion.

The misuses of ‘criticism’

The misuse of the idea of “criticism” first became clear to me when I gave a talk about critical thinking to a large group of first-year students. One student said that the lecturers she most disliked were the ones who banged on about the importance of being critical. She longed for one of them to assert or say something, so she could learn from them and perhaps challenge what they say.

The idea that critical thinking is a skill is the first of three popular, but false views that all do disservice to the idea of being critical. They also allow many teachers to believe they are critical thinkers when they are the opposite:

  1. “Critical thinking” is a skill. No it is not. At best this view reduces criticism to second-rate or elementary instruction in informal and some formal logic. It is usually second-rate logic and poor philosophy offered in bite-sized nuggets. Seen as a skill, critical thinking can also mean subjection to the conformism of an ideological yoke. If a feminist or Marxist teacher demands a certain perspective be adopted this may seem like it is “criticism” or acquiring a “critical perspective”, but it is actually a training in feminism or Marxism which could be done through tick box techniques. It almost acquires the character of a mental drill.

  2. “Critical thinking” means indoctrination. When teachers talk about the need to be “critical” they often mean instead that students must “conform”. It is often actually teaching students to be “critical” of their unacceptable ideas and adopt the right ones. Having to support multiculturalism and diversity are the most common of the “correct ideas” that everyone has to adopt. Professional programmes in education, nursing, social work and others often promote this sort of “criticism”. It used to be called “indoctrination”.

  3. “Critical theories” are “uncritical theories”. When some theory has the prefix “critical” it requires the uncritical acceptance of a certain political perspective. Critical theory, critical race theory, critical race philosophy, critical realism, critical reflective practice all explicitly have political aims.

What is criticism?

Criticism, according to Victorian cultural critic Matthew Arnold, is a disinterested endeavour to learn and propagate the best that is known and thought in the world. We should all be as “bound” by that definition as he was. We need only to teach the best that is known and thought and “criticism” will take care of itself. That is a lesson from 150 years ago that every teacher should learn.

Matthew Arnold knew how to be critical.
Elliott & Fry, via Wikimedia Commons

Critical thinking seen as Arnold defined it is more like a character trait – like having “a critical spirit”, or a willingness to engage in the “give and take of critical discussion”. Criticism is always about the world and not about you.

The philosopher most associated with the critical spirit is Socrates. In the 1930s, another Australian philosopher John Anderson put the Socratic view of education most clearly when he wrote: “The Socratic education begins … with the awakening of the mind to the need for criticism, to the uncertainty of the principles by which it supposed itself to be guided.”

But when I discuss Socratic criticism with teachers and teacher trainers I miss out Anderson’s mention of the word “uncertainty”. This is because many teachers will assume that this “uncertainty” means questioning those bad ideas you have and conforming to an agreed version of events, or an agreed theory.

Becoming a truly critical thinker is more difficult today because so many people want to be a Socrates. But Socrates only sought knowledge and to be a Socrates today means putting knowledge first.

The Conversation

Dennis Hayes does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

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Book review: Once Upon an If

The Philosophy Club

Once Upon an If cover

The Philosophy Foundation has a track record of producing a kind of book that’s in short supply: truly innovative contemporary guides to teaching critical and creative thinking to children. Peter Worley’s Once Upon an If: A storythinking handbook – a companion to The If Machine and The If Odyssey – is a valuable addition to an exemplary series of books. It further equips teachers to facilitate philosophical enquiry in the classroom, using stories as a springboard for exploring challenging ideas.

The opening chapters of Once Upon an If offer a practical guide to storytelling and ‘storythinking’, while the remainder of the book is devoted to a collection of stories pitched to primary school children, accompanied by suggested discussion questions.

Dense with ideas, yet eminently clear and well-paced, Once Upon an If is replete with practical advice drawn from scholarly research, richly informed by classroom experience. Worley has an enviable…

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