Philosophical Activities: 3 Philosophical Twists for Everyday Teaching

This week, most us will:


  • Ask our class for the definition of a word
  • Get them sorting things into categories, or…
  • Instruct them to put things in an order


Some of us might do all three! One of their many strengths is their simplicity. Children will get what we’re asking of them.

So here’s 3 philosophical twists on these activities, to make it easier for children to think about the harder questions. These were inspired by observing lessons at Harris Primary Academy, Chafford Hundred on Monday.

1. Asking for definitions

We ask children for meanings or definitions of keywords to check for understanding. These are usually technical terms. What is respiration? What does latitude mean? What’s a primary source?

The twist: Give pupils a concept to define. For example, what does ‘fairness’ mean? One way to find the concepts in a topic is to imagine what big ideas would be left behind if an explosion blew away the specific details. Concepts are usually juicy, abstract nouns that are hard to pin down – like bravery, freedom or justice.

Once a meaning is proposed, encourage counter-examples to test this definition. For example, if a pupil says fairness is ‘treating everyone equally’, ask if there’s any examples of equal treatment that isn’t fair. You could also explore the relationship between concepts by asking ‘Do ‘fairness’ and ‘equality’ mean the same thing? Or are they different?


2. Sorting things into categories

It’s the classic cut-and-stick exercise. On Monday, Year 1 children were sorting statements about seasons into columns titled True and False.

The twist: Give children a set of contentious statements to sort under Agree and Disagree. For example:

‘Summer is better than winter’
‘Building snow-people is more fun than building sandcastles’
‘Controlling the weather would be a good idea’

You could then divide the floor in two with a skipping rope or metre ruler, and read out each statement. Let pupils show their thinking physically by standing on the side of Agree or Disagree. Whichever statements divide the class nicely could then be used for a wider discussion. They might return to their desks and move some statements to the other column, if they’ve been convinced by the other side.


3. Putting things in order

We often ask pupils to make timelines, or sequence events from a story. It helps them understand chronology and causation.

The twist: Give pupils things from your topic to order from ‘most’ to ‘least’. Such as ordering from most to least important / valuable / beautiful. An example of this is our Naughtyometer, which fits into PSHE for all ages. You can download it here:


If you like the look of these suggestions, but you are struggling for a resource, reply direct to this email and we’ll send you an idea to match your topic.


Best wishes,



PS: We’ve had a brilliant response to our Philosopher in Residence CPD Programme launched last week. If you missed it, your school can still apply here:

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