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Using philosophy in your sessions

Philosophy sounds scary but in reality it is just asking and answering questions about ourselves and the world around us.

Questioning is a key part of learning and philosophy says we should question everything.

Why not include some of these questions and discussions in your sessions. They can help foster understanding and encourage your young people to ask the big questions and explore the world with a more open mind.

Here are some top tips for including philosophical questioning in your sessions.

Preparing ahead of a session takes the stress out of having to think on the spot during the discussion. The aim is not to anticipate every answer or discussion point that might come up — indeed, it’s great if the young people surprise you with their answers! — but have a bit of a think about what the most likely answers will be, and a few pre-prepared ideas to facilitate the discussion if it gets a bit stuck.

Make a short list of follow-up questions you could ask to promote discussion. Try and think of some examples that might help the young people think about the issue. You may have seen something that already touches upon the subject, perhaps from TV, movies or social media. 

Talking rule: only the person holding the talking stick (or ball) can speak

Listening rule: everyone is listening to the person holding the stick

Hands out rule:  if you have something to say, then hold your arm(s) out with the palm up

Respect rule: listen to and think about what others are saying  

If you are using a talking stick (or ball), make sure it keeps moving and everyone gets time to speak.  Those who are quieter may just need a little prompt to get talking. 

You could also give some thinking time before anyone gets to answer the question.

Emphasise that the most important and most difficult skill in discussions is not talking but listening.

We often interrupt if we are worried we will forget what we want to say. You could give out sticky notes (or scrap paper) so people can write down what they want to say.

Mix group discussion with talking in pairs and physical movement. You could try voting with your feet (eg. moving to one end of your meeting place if you agree, and the other if you disagree), or moving to talk to a different partner.

When discussing BIG philosophy questions there is often no right (or wrong) answer. You might find it helpful to tell them you don’t know the answer either. Don’t be afraid to explore answers that at first seem silly, but encourage the young people to think fully and carefully about the answers they give.

Philosophy starts with the question ‘Why?’ – not what people think and do, but with why they think and do it. We are all very good at saying what we think but we often find it hard to give our reasons.  

If a young person says what they think, ask ‘can you say why?’ or ‘why do you think that?’ There is no right or wrong answer to any of these questions. The idea is to practise asking ‘Why?’ and to experiment with different kinds of answers  

It is important that young people feel free to express and explore their own opinions without worrying if an adult agrees or disagrees with them. Try not to say what you think about any of the questions you are asking or the answers they are giving– you are there as a guide.

When you repeat something that a young person has said, always double check with them if that is what they meant. You can say ‘correct me if I am wrong’ or ‘is this what you meant?’ Ensure their opinion is heard. 

If you need to bring in an opinion that isn’t coming from a young person, then pretend it comes from someone anonymous, that you have spoken to. You can say ‘when I had this discussion at the Scout camp, someone said ….’ or ‘when I was talking to my friend, they thought ….’  

Encourage the young people to use their imagination, to tell stories and to have curious and puzzling thoughts. Inject humour and link to current events where you can.

Demonstrate that all opinions are valued equally and that it's a safe space in which to have a conversation.

Try using activities and games to get the children moving about and break things up.

Would Scouts still be Scouts if they stopped going camping?

The Royal Institute of Philosophy

Find out more about our partnership with The Royal Institute of Philosophy on our supporters page.

The Royal Institute of Philosophy

Big questions

You could try some of these BIG questions in your sessions.

Find the questions

Philosophy activities

Try some philosophical activities with your section.

Find philosophical activities