Tag Archives: philosophy

World Poetry Day 2016

UNESCO marks World Poetry Day every year on the 21st March.

In celebrating World Poetry Day UNESCO recognises the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind.

The Philosophy Foundation use poetry to explore philosophy, and philosophy to explore poetry.

Thoughtings“As the weeks have progressed I have noticed real improvements in regards to how the children respond to one another when they disagree and the quieter children are really beginning to ‘find their voices’. One particular child who finds writing a real struggle due to language barriers was so inspired following a poetry session that he sat and wrote a mainly phonetically correct poem of his own!”

Louise Toner, Year 2 Class Teacher, Crawford Primary School


The Philosophy ShopFor this World Poetry Day, download and use this free resource taken from one of our multi-award winning books The Philosophy Shop, to get your children writing some philosophical poetry of their own.

Philosophical Poetry

(This extract is taken from The Philosophy Shop © 2012 Peter Worley and Crown House Publishing)

And, from March 14th until April 30th take advantage of a special offer from Crown House Publishing to purchase any of our titles!

The Philosophy Foundation Series:

The Philosophy Shop: ideas, activities and questions to get people, young and old, thinking philosophically £25.00

Thoughtings: puzzles, problems and paradoxes in poetry to think with £14.99

The Numberverse: how numbers are bursting out of everything and just want to have fun £14.99

Provocations: philosophy for secondary schools £14.99

Buy any two titles from the Series at a 25% discount

Buy the complete series at a 50% discount.

Start Date: 14th March 2016

Expiry date 30th April 2016.

To take advantage of this offer contact Crown House Publishing at learn@crownhouse.co.uk or telephone 01267 211 345

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Filed under Philosophy in Schools, Poetry

Tales from the Nursery

By Steve Hoggins

steve listeningI have been doing philosophy with nursery children for the last couple of years (having previously worked as a nursery teacher) and I have noticed some differences between doing philosophy with them and doing philosophy with older children, which I’d like to share.

Get their attention

The first significant difference is that nursery children aren’t regimented into a formal lesson structure. Their activities are child-centred and free flow. As an approach to education there is much to admire here but for our slot of 15 minutes we don’t have the luxury of waiting for opportunities to do philosophy. However, nursery children rarely sit down with the express purpose of following your lesson plan. To overcome this problem I have had to try and make ‘following my plan’ the most interesting thing for them to do. Partly this is achieved through your selection of resources, choice of games etc. but I think one key element is having an infectious enthusiasm yourself. Try stepping into nursery with a pillowcase thrown over your shoulder, a cardboard crown on your head and proclaim “Quick! The story of the Unhappy prince is about to begin!”.

Engagement. Engagement. Engagement. During the beginning, middle and end of the lesson and in the most immediate way, that is to say make them interact with you, their story-teller, narrator, problem-setter or puppeteer. Then you have them and the ground is fertile for you to plant the philosophical problem. However, engagement doesn’t always come easy.

I was being observed when, mid-way through telling a story, one child suddenly pipes up with,

“I want to go upstairs”

“Sure you can go, upstairs”, I reply.

“I want to go upstairs as well” chimes in another.


“Me too!” I let this child leave too.

“Can I go?” Says another as she is halfway out the door.

“Upstairs!” Choruses the rest of the group, rising. Cue a mass exodus. I lose the entire group to the mysterious delights of ‘upstairs’; I look across the empty room to the person observing me.

“This doesn’t always happen…”

Set out the basics

The engagement needed was there, but it wasn’t enough. I also needed to set out some routines and start developing some habits. These are things that our older students are already aware of, we just have to asked them to do it in the right way. Nursery needs to be introduced to these ways of working as a group. First was the concept of ‘sitting down’. As adults we view sitting down as a position that one adopts, usually for some length of time, when one is at rest. Children seem to view sitting down as a split-second transition between standing up and rolling all around the floor, limbs flailing towards the ribs of nearby teachers. Success in this area is never really complete until children are about 23 years old, I feel, but you can make progress. To get them sat in the right place I have tried a three stage strategy:

Games1. A catching game in which the prize for catching the ball is to sit in the special circle! (that I have taped out on the floor prior to the session).

2. Many children will know the ‘Make a Circle’ song, which is set to the tune of Frere Jacques; also a good way of getting them in place.

3. Then, I play the passing game in which they have to call the name of another child and roll the ball to them. The idea behind this is that they develop the habit of talking to each other (not just me), taking turns and joining in. Try this out and if it doesn’t work try it again.

Running games with young children can take a lot of problem solving to get just right.

I’m running the pass-the-ball game with some success. Most of the children have had a turn, many of them said someone else’s name and passed that person the ball. At least two of them have said someone’s name but then threw the ball directly up, dislodging several ceiling tiles in the process. Currently one child is gripping the Elmer ball and incoherently mumbling their own monologue with occasional audible exclamations of ‘elephant!’. I gently lean forward with the glittery butterfly puppet, and as she reaches for it, I whip the ball away with my spare hand so the rest of us can continue the game.

Get to the philosophy

Once I have their attention and covered the basics I have between 1 and 13 precious minutes of philosophy potential. Most weeks I hit around the 7 mark. My success indicators for philosophy are different for younger children and by themselves may not, rightly be called philosophy. However, I consider them to be part of doing philosophy, a significant part too. More so than ‘being awake’ is part of doing philosophy but obviously less than ‘expressing valid arguments in syllogistic form’ is.

One of the greatest struggles is finding the point at which the children find a concept controversial. Friendship, for example is normally a term we reserve for describing human relationships, perhaps stretching to pets before it gets debatable whether Fido can be a friend. Children, I discovered, had few difficulties with considering animals as friends.

Fido & RobotCan Jack and Fido be friends?

“Yes!” several children shout, some hands go up.

“Why?” I ask one child.

“Cause Fido is happy to see Jack”

I ask others in the group. There are no contrary views but I had anticipated this.

“OK, can jack be a friend with a robot?” I whip out a robot picture and pass it to Lyra.

She puts it next to the picture of Jack and proclaims them friends.

We still haven’t got an opposing viewpoint.

“Who thinks Jack and the robot are NOT friends?”

Silence. I begin to improvise.

“Can Jack and this pen be friends?”


I really didn’t think they would say that,

“Can you show me?”

Mason picks up the pen and the picture of Jack. He then puts on a crude puppet show in which Jack and pen meet, say hello and are best friends thereafter.

“Can Jack and this piece of paper be friends?”


“So why can’t they be friends, Casey?”

“Because paper can’t talk”


Finally I was getting to the bite point, the point at which children think of it as a friend and not a friend, the point at which it is controversial. They may not go further to give conditions of friendship (like ‘talking’) as Casey did in my cherry-picked example, but doing philosophy is substantially helped when the children see that there is a problem.

Once a problem has been spotted children tend towards the dramatic response rather than the reasoned response. Unless the dialogue is managed the to and fro of child pantomime will quickly ensue:

FAC: Mason says that they are friends

CASEY: Not they isn’t!

MASON: Yes they is!”


MASON: Yess!

CASEY: Nooooo…No!”

To begin the reasoning I look to put the grammar and language in. This is done elegantly and simply through the use of ‘why?’ as a follow-up question and ‘because…” as a prompt. Admittedly you don’t always get supporting reasons from 4-year-olds, but you will get the language and grammar of reason-giving embedded as a habit. Sometimes I’m tempted to rename my nursery sessions Becausing classes for this reason.

It’s not your session

Honestly, even when you think they have followed your plan perfectly, it is only because your plan happens to be what they want to talk about. There will be more days where they go off at a tangent you couldn’t prepare for.

Saddest KingToday’s story is about this land where the king has made it law that everyone must be happy. The key characters are the king who thinks it’s better to be happy and this boy who wants to be sad. And a dog. These opposing characters will help set up opposing views, enabling the children to see the controversy (adapted from The Saddest King by Christoper Wormell).

“So, the King told the boy that it was better to be happy all the time. Is it better to be happy all the time?”

“Look, the dog is funny!”

“Thank you, Sara. Is it better to be happy?”

“Look! It’s smiling…”

“Happy, sad or something else, Sara, what’s better?”

“…And its tail is wagging” I sigh heavily “So is the dog happy?”

If your question isn’t the one the children are interested in there is little point in pushing it. Sometimes they’ll answer your question if you repeat it but at other times you have to improvise a new question using the content they are interested in. On this occasion my session deviated from the ethics of when one should be happy and moved toward the metaphysical concerns of what happiness is. So I guess the session is still yours in that you are going to still aim for controversy, differing viewpoints and some level of reasoning. However, you can only suggest content to your class to see if they want to run with it and if they don’t you have to see if you can run with theirs.


Four things to try in your next nursery class are:

Bin it

Be ready to bin it!

1. Engage them, make learning interactive at every possible moment.

2. Create the conditions for philosophy to take place; this takes longer to do with younger children.

3. Get to the philosophy, if you hear the word ‘because’ then that’s a start.

4. Keep your lesson plan near the bin at all times. Follow them.


Filed under Education, Philosophy in Schools

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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From the Chalkface

by Steve Hoggins

I had a breakthrough with one of my pupils this week, all initiated by a great learning support mentor who has also helped with our Young Philosophers group (a termly meet up of children from across Lewisham who are good at philosophy, and who don’t normally get these opportunities. The aim of the group is to inspire children, raise attainment, and also for us to keep in contact with children who would benefit from extra support).

Our class had a new arrival last term, an extremely quiet pupil who wasn’t making friends and refused to speak in philosophy. The quiet pupil was assigned a learning mentor after the first few weeks and a couple of weeks after the learning mentor approached me to say that this pupil had been talking about philosophy in their one-to-one lessons.

At the learning mentor’s suggestion the pupil would come to the class a little earlier and we’d have a chat. It transpired that she had ideas but couldn’t get them out straight and was a little intimidated by the rest of the class. We made a deal that every Talk Time (moments in the session when the children talk with each other about the question under consideration) I would listen to her idea one-to-one, and then share it with the class. At first I would share it anonymously and later we agreed that I could say it was her idea.

This week the class were discussing friendship and some argued that, ‘you can be friends with something as long as you like it; you can be friends with a teddy bear’. My shy pupil told me in Talk Time, “That’s not right, I like food but I eat food and you don’t eat your friends”. So, per our agreement, I shared this with the class. There was some healthy disagreement but some had clearly just missed the point. All of a sudden, after one particular misapprehension of the shy pupil’s idea, that same shy pupil raised a hand and with a bit of a stumble clearly re-stated her argument, speaking in front of the class for the first time since joining – whoop!

I think there are 4 things of note here:

  • This quiet pupil was actually engaging in philosophy, despite not speaking.
  • The other people around the pupil can bring valuable insight.
  • The child was drawn out from a desire clarify her idea rather than being asked/persuaded (intrinsic motivation, rather than extrinsic)
  • Some days are just brilliant.

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Maths In Singapore: Why You Don’t ALWAYS Want To Start With A Concrete Example

Question: How do you introduce new concepts in Maths?
One Answer: You demonstrate and explore them in a concrete way, then get students to represent the concept pictorially, then record it numerically – from the concrete to the abstract, in other words. So if you were introducing fractions, you’d get students to cut up a cake, then draw or arrange pictures of cakes cut up, then use digits to record the process.
That all makes sense to me, and apparently it’s the main principle behind Singapore Maths, the curriculum and methods that started in Singapore and have been followed by schools around the world attracted by the country’s performance in Maths teaching.

However, I spent last week at the impressive UWCSEA international school in Singapore. They don’t use ‘Singapore’ Maths, though, because they are an international school and so outside the Singapore system. I was there to work with the teachers on Enquiry Maths, an approach I came to through doing philosophy in schools.

The central insight of my book The Numberverse – the thunderbolt that hit me when I first got into this area – is that children will explore numbers in the abstract. So yes, they are helped enormously if they can proceed from concrete to abstract, and see how concepts are applied first. But they also, at times, can make strides by pursuing their own curiosity about numbers in the abstract. I’d like to give an example of how.

One of the many challenges the teachers at UWCSEA set me was how to use enquiry to introduce the multiplication of fractions by whole numbers, e.g. 3/4 x 7. When I learned this topic, in about 1980, it certainly wasn’t by enquiry. I had a good teacher that year but she was the sort that just showed you how to do stuff: I was told to multiply the top number (numerator) by the whole number, e.g 3 x 7 and keep the bottom number (denominator) the same, e.g. 21/4. Bingo. This gives you a correct answer, though you may need to simplify the fraction, e.g. 5 and 1/4.

I learned to do this mechanically, and as the arithmetic involved is pretty simple even for someone like me, successfully. It was some time – perhaps years – later that I twigged that 3/4 multiplied by 7 is exactly the same as three-quarters OF 7.  My confidence with the procedure wasn’t matched by a confidence with the concept, the problem lying in wait being that when I needed to apply the knowledge (whether in practical situations or abstract ones, like algebra) I was hesitant.

So I wanted the group I worked with last week to ground the new concept in the knowledge they already had. I followed the principle of starting with the known as the gateway to the unknown. I wrote this on the board:

6 x 6 = 36

6 x 5 = 30

Without saying anything about what I was doing, I asked if anyone could continue it. They wrote the 6x table backwards down to 6 x 1 = 6. I asked if we had finished. Someone added 6 x 0 = 0. Have we finished now, I asked. After discussion in pairs the children said that you could continue by ‘doing minus numbers’. I agreed that you could. Then I asked:

‘Does anything go in between these?’ and pointed to two lines in the list. The room buzzed with activity, and after a few minutes each pair had suggested another entry to the list, where 6 was multiplied by a fraction or mixed number. They wrote their ideas in the gaps between the lines. Although they used the word ‘fraction’ when they discussed it out loud, they mostly switched to decimals when writing. The children attempted:

6 x 1.5
6 x 1.75

… and so on. Some of their calculations weren’t correct, but two of the children thought through how to test the calculations practically: by imagining six people all with one and a half cakes each, for example, and counting how many cakes there are in total.

What these two children were doing was working the opposite way to the concrete-to-abstract method I mentioned at the beginning. I’d got them to think about it purely as a matter of logic: i.e. there must be something in between 6 x 0 and 6 x 1, so what could it be? Now they were testing that abstract reasoning by applying it to a concrete scenario. Some felt more inclined to do that testing than others, and that’s fine.

So my point is that you can start at either end – concrete or abstract. Different topics, different students, different teachers and resources – all of these may influence a teacher’s decision about which angle to come from.

Where this comes into its own is if you extend this from multiplication to division of fractions. So now you might write:

6 divided by 3 = 2

6 divided by 2 = 3

6 divided by 1 = 6

Now if you just stop a moment you might spot something new this time. Whereas last time moving on to 6 x 0 was quite straightforward, 6 divided by 0 is far from that. In fact I once set this to a class as a starter and asked them to figure it out, having stumbled across the problem myself and got very confused. I initially thought the answer must be 6 or 1. But neither makes sense: 6 by 1 is 6 and 6 by 6 is 1, so neither of those can have the same answer as 6 by 0… surely?

If you try the concrete approach of physically trying to share 6 oranges, say, between zero people you find that you are in fact left with 6 oranges as you have no-one to share them with. But then the whole point of sharing is that I should share out all that I’ve got till I have nothing – not have everything still left.

Working at an abstract level was something I found more helpful on this occasion. It took me a while to figure this, but I remember one boy who came up with it within about 10 seconds of being presented with the problem:

‘You can’t do it. Because you can’t do it backwards. If 6 divided by zero had an answer, that would mean something multiplied by 0 equalled 6, but it can’t.’

This is a perfect reductio ad absurdum argument. It shows that if we allow that 6 divided by 0 is possible then we have to allow also that something multiplied by 0 equals 6, which is absurd. This boy was thought not to be very academic, by the way, but OK because he was good at sport. I’ve got a feeling he’ll do just fine in life.

If you’re interested, you can see Matt Parker prove it more mathematically and entertainingly here <a href=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRRolKTlF6Q”>

But that’s all a digression! The point is that by running the same enquiry for dividing by fractions as you did for multiplying them you might get the children filling in values like this:

6 divided by 3 = 2

6 divided by 2 = 3

6 divided by 1 = 6

6 divided by 1/2 = ???

If children can spot a pattern in what comes above they can make a conjecture about what comes next. For example, they might say that the answer must be higher than 6.  Good start.  How much higher…?  Tricky to say.  Or they could see that the inverse operation works in each line, so they ask themselves: ‘what do you multiply by a half to get six?’, or ‘how many halves make six?’. Then the answer is quite straightforward: 12.

Were you, on the other hand, to try and start from a concrete scenario, then what? You imagine yourself giving six oranges to half a person?! I would be genuinely interested to hear from anyone who has managed this, as I’d like to be able to come at it both ways. Until I hear different, though, I’ll go on believing that sometimes the concrete-to-abstract is perfect, but that the purely abstract sometimes blows it away.

[Since posting this I’ve seen an excellent round up on the x & ÷ fractions issue: http://www.resourceaholic.com/2014/08/fractions.html ]

If you’d like to take a peek at The Numberverse, try:
<a href=”
http://www.philosophy-foundation.org/resources/philosophy-foundation-publications/the-numberverse&#8221; target=”_blank”>http://www.philosophy-foundation.org/resources/philosophy-foundation-publications/the-numberverse

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Socrates, Philosophy & Black Friday

‘Look at all these things I don’t need!’ the philosopher Socrates is said to have declared as he stood before the many stalls filling the marketplace of Ancient Athens. In contrast to the stalls in the agora (Greek for ‘marketplace’), and by engaging the citizens there with big, philosophical questions, Socrates offered an exchange of a very different kind. His currency was ideas; a wiser, more reflective person housed within a life well-lived his aim. This anecdote shows how one can trace the origins of philosophy – as we know it in western Europe at least – back to shopping.

We can perhaps identify with Socrates here as we too stand amid a dizzying marketplace – albeit a much larger, global one – bombarded from all sides by promises of a better life from ‘pedlars of wares’. And we too may feel the need for an alternative kind of shop as an antidote to the pressures and promises of the modern-day agora – one that guards against the many ‘snake-oils’ on offer by insisting on an ‘account’ or ‘reason’ or logos in Greek. Perhaps we need an alternative shop such as this in order to reach that ‘better life’ by other than financial, consumerist means.

The Philosophy Shop book stands as Socrates to the reader: sometimes beguiling, humorous and inspiring; other times irritating, like a gadfly, goading us into wakefulness, and sometimes frustratingly circular or inconclusive. But always – it is hoped – stimulating.

Taken from the preface of ‘The Philosophy Shop

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Filed under Education, Peter Worley, Philosophy in Schools

Stoic Week Philosophy Session Plan

Here’s a lesson plan for Years 6 and up (and able Y5s) on Stoic-related themes for Stoic Week. Draw from it what you want. Taken from Peter Worley‘s forthcoming book, 40 lessons to get children thinking [September 2015].

Equipment needed and preparation: a glass of water, half-filled; handouts or a projection of the extract from Hamlet (optional)

Age: The ‘glass of water’ section is suitable for 7 years and up, but the ‘Hamlet’ section is suitable only for 10 years and up.

Key vocabulary: optimism, pessimism, positive, negative, good, bad

Subject links: literacy, Shakespeare, PSHE

Key controversies: Is ‘good and bad’ a state of mind or a state of the world?

Key concepts: attitude(s), perception, value,

A little philosophy: Stoicism is a branch of Hellenistic (late ancient Greek period from approx. 323-31 BCE) philosophy that derives its name from the ‘painted porch’ (Stoa poikile) in the marketplace of Athens, under which many of the early Stoics taught. The school of Stoicism is said to have begun with Zeno of Citium (c. 334-262 BCE) and been further developed by Cleanthes of Assos (330-230 BCE) and Chrysippus of Soli (279-206 BCE) but the most famous of the Stoics is Epictetus (55-135 CE), originally a slave who later became a free man because of his philosophy, Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE), tutor and advisor to the Roman Emperor Nero, and Marcus Aurelius (121-180 CE), himself an Emperor of Rome (who features in the film Gladiator). The word ‘stoic’ has entered the English language and means ‘to accept something undesirable without complaint’. The key ideas of stoicism are as follows:

  • All human beings have the capacity to attain happiness.
  • Human beings are a ‘connected brotherhood’ and, unlike animals, are able to benefit each other rationally.
  • Human beings are able to change their emotions and desires by changing their beliefs.
  • Stoics care less about achieving something and much more about having done one’s best to achieve it.
  • Stoics attempt to understand what is in one’s power and what is not, to act, when necessary, to change what it is in one’s power to change, and to accept stoically (see above) what it is not in one’s power to change.

Quote: ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; Courage to change the things I can; And wisdom to know the difference.’ (Reinhold Niebuhr’s serenity prayer used by Alcoholics Anonymous)


Emperor Penguin

Critical thinking tool: Examples, counter-examples and falsification – Examples are often used to illustrate a claim whereas counter-examples are examples that are used to refute a claim. Counter-examples are very useful for falsifying general claims:

Child A: All birds fly.

Child B: A penguin is a bird but penguins don’t fly, so not all birds fly.

In this case, because the claim made was a general claim (‘All Xs F’), only a single example is needed to refute it; it is quite unnecessary to mention ostriches or kiwis for the refutation to be successful. Hamlet’s


Is the glass half full, or half empty?

Session Plan: Part One: The Glass of Water

Half fill a glass of water and place it in the middle of the talk circle so all the children can see it. Then ask the following task question:

Task Question: Is the glass half full or is the glass half empty?

Nested Questions:

  • Is there an answer to this question?
  • Is it a matter of opinion?
  • Can it be both?
  • Is it good or bad that the glass is only half full/empty?

Allow a discussion to unfold around this question. At some point it may become appropriate to introduce the following words:

  1. Optimist
  2. Pessimist

Find out if anyone has heard these words before and see if anyone can explain the words to the class. Provide the following starting definitions if they don’t do so themselves:

  1. An optimist is someone who sees things in a positive way; someone who often sees the good side of things.
  2. A pessimist is someone who sees things in a negative way; someone who often sees the bad side of things.


  1. Which one, the optimist or the pessimist, would see the glass as half-full? Why?
  2. Which one, the optimist or the pessimist, would see the glass as half-empty? Why?

Task Question: Is it better to be an optimist or a pessimist? 


Laurence Olivier as Hamlet

Part Two: Hamlet’s Prison

Part one makes a good session by itself. Here is a second part that is more advanced and can be approached in one of two ways: either use the full extract from Hamlet and allow the class to unpack it or simply skip straight to the central Hamlet quote (‘For there is nothing…’). The previous enquiry around the glass of water should give the class what it needs to approach the quote on its own. I recommend not explaining how the two parts link; give the class the opportunity to make the link. Because you want to get to the thinking aspect of the session I recommend not having members of the class read out the extract. I usually ask them to read it, dramatically, in pairs to each other; I then read it properly to the class as a whole and ask them to raise their hands if:

  1. There is a word they don’t understand.
  2. There is a phrase they don’t understand.
  3. They would like to say what they think the entire extract is about.
  4. They would like to say what a particular part means.

Give out the handouts or project the extract on the IWB then read the following:

This extract is taken from the play Hamlet by William Shakespeare – it’s the one that contains the line ‘To be or not to be, that is the question’. This is another extract from the play that is less well-known but really good for thinking with.

HAMLET Denmark’s a prison.
ROSENCRANTZ Then is the world a prison?
HAMLET A goodly one; in which there are many confines,
wards and dungeons, Denmark being one of the worst.
ROSENCRANTZ We think not so, my lord.
HAMLET Why, then, ’tis no prison to you; for there is nothing
either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me
it is a prison.
ROSENCRANTZ Why then, your ambition makes it one; Denmark is too
narrow for your mind.
HAMLET I could be bounded in a nut shell and count
myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I
have bad dreams.

Once you have spent some time unpacking the extract write up or project the following claim made by Hamlet: 

HAMLET Why, then, ’tis no prison to you; for there is nothing
either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me
it is a prison.

(If you are skipping to the single quote then write up just this:

HAMLET                                    …for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so…)

First of all ask the class: What do you think Hamlet means by this?

Then ask the following task question:

TQ: Do you agree with Hamlet – is it true that there is nothing either good or bad, but that thinking makes it so? 

Ask the class to come up with some examples of things that are good or bad whatever you happen to think about them.

What about these situations (use these examples only if the children do not find their own):

1) You fail an exam.

2) You win the lottery.

3) Your family forget your birthday.

4) Your tattooist misspells a word in your tattoo.

5) Your favourite pet dies.

6) You discover that you have become addicted to something.

7) You are diagnosed with a terminal illness.

Take some quotes from below and ask the children to respond critically to them. This is done by simply asking them if they agree or disagree with the quote. I sometimes ask for ‘thumbs up’ if they agree, ‘thumbs down’ if they disagree and ‘thumbs sideways’ if they think something other than agree or disagree.




“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”

“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.”

“People are not worried by real problems so much as by imagined anxieties about real problems.”

“There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.”

“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”




“Most powerful is she who has herself in her own power.”

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

“Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labour does the body.”

“As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.”

“Life is like a play: it’s not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters.”

“It is the power of the mind to be unconquerable.”

“A sword never kills anybody; it is a tool in the killer’s hand.”

“Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false and by the rulers as useful.”

TQ: Can one agree with Seneca and also believe in God?

Marcus Aurelius


Marcus Aurelius

“You have the power of your mind – not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.”

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.”

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

“When you arise in the morning think of what a privilege it is to be alive, to think, to enjoy, to love…”

“Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.”

“Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.”

Extension activities:

Here is a new Thoughting that could be used for, during or after this session that will introduce the children to some more isms.

(Preparation: half fill a glass of water and place in on a table in front of your class. Then, as you reach the part where the speaker in the poem says ‘cheers!’, pick up the glass of water and drink it. Half fill it once more and replace it before beginning the discussion.)

The Glass of Water

The pessimist says it’s half empty

The optimist says it’s half full

The sceptic says, ‘Now, hang on a minute!

Do we know that it’s there at all?’

The cynic says, ‘Whatever you do, don’t drink it!’

The paranoiac says, ‘Who put it there?’

Then, looking round, adds, ‘And why?’

The psychologist says that you think it,

The realist: ‘Without it you’ll die.’

And while all the company debate it,

Over the din no one hears,

When – feeling somewhat dehydrated – I say,



  • If you don’t already know, can you guess what each of the ists and so on means from the context of the poem? E.g. What’s a pessimist? What’s an optimist? A sceptic? A cynic? And so on.
  • Are you any of them? Why or why not?

Related Resources: 


Filed under Education, Peter Worley, Philosophy in Schools