40-Inspire 100% Participation in Tomorrow’s Class Discussion with Philosophical Chairs…the Stanford History Education Group

I’ll wager you’d like to dramatically improve your class discussions! You yearn for discussions where all students participate. You dream about student conversations that tackle compelling topics with DEEP analysis, inquiry, and speculation. I’ll also predict you’d love your students to enthusiastically plunge into primary sources evaluating the perspective of the author, contextualizing what they wrote, and then corroborating the source with other primary documents.

Last week, my students did exactly this with Lin Zexu’s letter to Queen Elizabeth imploring her to end the opium trade in China. It was an epic performance by my students! The instructional template is Philosophical Chairs. What inspired this wonderful class was the Stanford History Education Group.

Today, Joel Breakstone, from SHEG, will discuss:

  • The Stanford History Education Group
  • Philosophical Chairs
  • Empowering students to devour primary sources
  • Inspiring kids to dramatically up their class conversation game

Joel Breakstone of SHEG @joelbreakstone

Follow this link to the Teaching Channel and watch this video where Valerie Ziegler, from Lincoln High School in San Francisco, demonstrates Philosophical Chairs. Please don’t stop reading if you’re not a history teacher. What this episode promotes could be utilized in every discipline.

Please also check out SHEG’s site that explores and inspires better assessment…Beyond the Bubble. 

 Episode Template

The Problem:

Class Discussions need to be better!

The Solution:

Philosophical Chairs

What you can do Tomorrow:

  1. Visit SHEG and watch the video on Philosophical Chairs
  2. Find outstanding primary sources
  3. Arrange the room for sitting, standing, and movement
  4. Create an alternative assignment for kids who don’t pull the verbal trigger

Listen to “40-Inspire 100% Participation in Tomorrow’s Class Discussion with Philosophical Chairs…the Stanford History Education Group” on Spreaker.

39-Kristin Kovak Unleashes the Lorax Challenge of Shame


The Lorax speaks for the trees and wants you to go paperless.    Source:  Dr Seuss / Brevard Zoo, Viera FL Author Rusty Clark from merritt usland FLA


Just yesterday…I was making copies in the Teacher’s Lounge when I realized I’d made a mistake and forgot to double-side and staple the set! The practical upshot of this wasteful frenzy was the destruction of innocent paper.

Teachers go through reams of paper daily. I must plead guilty to laying waste to forests in my efforts to educate modern youth. Sadly, many of these sheets of decimated vegetation awre used by students only temporarily, then discarded often bypassing the recycling bin in route to the landfill. But the tide of history is urging educators to alter their standard operating procedure. It’s time to do a “Paperless Week”.

But importantly…this paperless approach has the potential to engage your students. Sound interesting? I thought so! Give a listen to Kristen Kovak…a paperless guru…the contemporary Lorax!


Kristin mentioned these two tools:




Episode Template

The Problem:

Teachers waste MASSIVE amounts of paper!

The Solution:

Institute a Paperless Week in your classroom.

What you can do tomorrow:

  • Engage kids with the Paperless Week.
  • Require students to turn in assignments electronically.
  • Provide feedback to students electronically.
  • Prompt students to evaluate the experience on Friday. Of course…have them submit it electronically!
  • For the long-term…consider using Google Classroom.

Do something wonderful for the planet. Be a good role model. Future teachers will engage students without paper. Get ahead of the curve!

Listen to “39-Kristen Kovak Unleashes the Lorax Challenge of Shame” on Spreaker.



38-Transform your Class into a Daily TED Talk

Educators have an unquenchable thirst to explain. I have this urge. If some students don’t get it, it’s my job to clarify. Unfortunately, this tendency can disengage students who got it the first time.

It’s been my observation, both from the standpoint of being a student…and then working with colleagues as an adult, that teachers aren’t the best at weighing the trade-offs of their marathon explanations, presentations, and lectures. Let’s be less windy. Let’s become more attuned to nonverbal cues from our students. When we’ve lost the eyes, when their heads start to droop, when they get fidgety, when they’re unresponsive to prompts, they’re disengaged and we need to adjust.

A great template for teacher presentations is the ubiquitous TED Talk. I must confess, I love TED Talks. Some, like one I watched recently on posture, have profoundly impacted my life. TED Talks do not exceed 18 minutes.  Professional coach Carmine Gallo explains the TED Talk model in his article “The Science Behind TED’s 18-Minute Rule.”

When you reduce your airtime, it paves the way for student collaboration!

Episode Template

The Problem:

Teachers talk too much!

The Solution:

Morph your presentations into daily TED Talks by limiting the amount of time you speak.

What you can do tomorrow:

  • Invoke the 10-minute Rule.
  • Let students in on the challenge.
  • Practice the Clear the Deck Manoeuvre.
  • Practice the Listen to me with your Face Manoeuvre.
  • Clear the center of the room to create the Agora.

To engage kids, limit how much you talk and increase how much students collaborate.

Listen to “38-Transform your Class into a Daily TED Talk” on Spreaker.




37-Here’s the way you do an Epic Class Twitter Chat…Starring Derek Herman

Okay…here’s the situation. The semester is winding down and you need to include one more Socratic Seminar on an important topic. But…you look at the calendar and there’s no time! Sound familiar? It’s a classic necessity is the mother of invention situation.

I was faced with just such a scenario one month ago at the conclusion of the previous semester. So…I IMPROVISED! What materialized was awesome and will become a standard activity every semester, till I hang up my spikes! I decided to take my Socratic Seminar virtual and make it a class Twitter chat. But none of this would have transpired if it weren’t for the guidance of my friend Connie Hamilton and her insistence that I learn how to use Tweetdeck. I’ll explain this amazing platform in the episode.

My class Twitter chat was epic. The hashtag was #heywc1. Feel free to check out the kid’s posts.

as in…”Hey World Civilization 1!”

To help explain Tweetdeck and participating in this Twitter chat from the perspective of a student is my partner in crime Derek Herman.


Episode Template

The Problem:

You long to do something new with your next Socratic Seminar.

The Solution:

Morph you Socratic Seminar into a class Twitter chat.

What you can do tomorrow:

  • Create a unique hashtag.
  • Learn Tweetdeck and then teach your students this amazing platform.
  • Create outstanding questions and responses and schedule them with Tweetdeck.
  • Invite your principal to participate.

Twitter is a fact of modern life. Embrace it and all its potential to engage your students.

Listen to “37-Here’s the way you do an Epic Class Twitter Chat…Starring Derek Herman” on Spreaker.