Delphi was, in many ways, a typical girl of Athens. Like all girls, she didn’t go to school or have a job but spent her time at home, learning how to clean, sew, cook and generally look after her father’s house. At least, that’s what she was supposed to be doing. In fact, what Delphi really did was get out of the house at every possible opportunity and ask questions.
It's all anyone in Athens is talking about. The infamous philosopher Socrates has been arrested and faces trial and possible execution. Delphi, with her friend Plato, can't make sense of it - what's so bad about asking people questions? Together, they decide to sneak in to find out for themselves...
Are children really worth listening to?
Why do we ask why?
What is a good person?
Giving your opinion
Asking 'why' questions
This lesson is focused on introducing and engaging the children with the story and main characters. It uses a range of short activities to introduce the children to the basic skills required for philosophy lessons – listening, asking questions and explaining their ideas. It also offers an opportunity for some pre-unit assessment, so that the needs of the children can be identified for future lessons.
Lesson Blog: Prologue
It’s the beginning of the Autumn term and the time has come when we can once again start teaching Delphi the Philosopher to our new classes! I teach a Year 3 class in a city primary school in the West Midlands of England. It’s been a whole year since we first trialed these lessons, and this time we’ve decided to blog about our experiences. Hopefully we’ll be able to show you exactly why we find Delphi so valuable – and so much fun!
Rosie will tell you her experiences a little later, but first let me tell you about my first lesson, where we read the Prologue together.
There are two main purposes to the first lesson – we want to introduce children to the story and the characters, but we also want to capture their initial ideas and identify their initial skills. The session includes various short activities and discussions to practise the basic skills we’re going to need to become philosophers – listening carefully, asking questions and giving our opinion.
But first – the story. Delphi is (as far as I know) a completely unique style of teaching. The story will, at various times, be my modelling, my questioning, my learning focus. By packaging up all the skill development and discussion questions into a story, it not only means progress will develop naturally, but it engages children more than it otherwise would. Children care about a story. My class cared about this story almost instantly; as soon as we had seen the front cover and met this stroppy, but rather familiar, girl called Delphi. You can see the set-up of the classroom in these photos – a storyteller, a story, a slideshow of wonderful pictures (courtesy of the wonderful Rosie). We will keep breaking off from this set-up in all sorts of ways, but we will always keep coming back to the story. You can find out more about how it all works here.
Philosophy lessons should be surprising. As we go through the scheme, you’ll see that no two sessions are ever quite the same. When you start a session, there is a wonderful buzz of expectancy in the room as the children have literally no idea what is coming next. The first surprise for this class is that Delphi is funny. In fact, I was surprised at how funny they found it – at one point, when Delphi tried to stop her friend Plato from crying, I had to pause because one boy was on his back, struggling to stop manically giggling. Laughter is, I feel, a very underused tool in many classrooms.
The ‘why questions’ activity in this lesson is a case in point. The children learn that Delphi likes to ask a lot of why questions. Cue video!
They then have the chance to write their own why questions.
At which point, we learn that Delphi asks so many why questions to her Dad that he feels like he is being bombarded with them. So that’s what we do.
It’s fair to say that at this point, the children realise that this is not like any lesson they have ever done before. Don’t worry, I did ask them to do this. And they did stop throwing things at me in the end.
We get back to the story and we meet Plato and Socrates, and we learn that Socrates wanted to be a good person. But what is a good person? We have our first major class discussion, which I do not push in any direction or question responses further. Not yet. I wanted to see what they could do already.
Most children could give their opinion. Some children used because to explain themselves. I heard a few ‘if’s and a couple of children used examples to explain their idea. Nobody picked up on anybody else’s idea and took it further. Right – I know where we are and what we need to learn. Listening to their talk and working out your starting point is important when starting a scheme like this. I want to notice the progress they make. More about this another day.
I also wanted to capture their ideas about this question, so we did a little written work. There isn’t a huge amount of written work in Delphi – this is the closest we come to a worksheet – but capturing their initial ideas about this question is important. We’ll be talking about how to be a good person a great deal over the next few weeks. Most children felt being a good person was about being ‘nice’ or ‘kind’ in a general sense – but a few children also thought that there was more to it than that.
By the end of the session, we had achieved everything I had been hoping for. I had done some initial assessments, we’d practised some basic skills, and above all, the children had had a fantastic time. As one boy remarked, less than halfway through the lesson: “This is my favourite lesson ever already!”
When it was time to close the book, leaving Delphi and Plato deciding to break in to Socrates’ trial, there was a roar of discontent. Delphi lessons often seem to end like this.
They, and you, are just going to have to wait until next week to find out what happens next.
I can’t wait. I’d forgotten how much fun it is!
Over to Rosie, to see how this session went in her school, with her class of Year 5’s.
It was a confusing start for the children on Friday. Mostly for two reasons: one being that their teacher had decided to come to school wearing a golden ticket costume, and the other being the mysterious appearance of a new subject on the visual timetable – ‘philosophy’. There were many raised eyebrows and impending questions from 9 o’clock that morning. The first reason was easily explained – “No your teacher has not lost the plot, it is in fact Roald Dahl day, hooray!” As for the second reason, I had to leave them in suspense until approximately 2 o’clock that afternoon.
I have been beyond excited to begin Delphi the Philosopher with this new class and the very first lesson did not disappoint one bit! First of all, I asked them what they thought philosophy was and was immediately met with some very blank faces. Of course, this was great because that means we have a fantastic journey ahead of us. Lots of them thought philosophy was just a posh word for history and one said they thought it was a subject only meant for intelligent people. I haven’t told them yet what philosophy really is as I know Delphi will do that job for me in the coming weeks, but I can tell already that this class are going to be really gripped by it!
Sharing the front cover with them was an absolute treat. Their mouths just dropped. It was like having an aquarium tank full of fish staring back at me. “You drew that?” “Are you famous?” “Can I buy this?” “Did you draw all of that picture?” I talked a bit about how Delphi came to be and how this was a project a very good friend had asked me to get involved in. I wanted them to see that it was just a bit of fun, doing what we love to do. It was so lovely to hear their admiration for my illustrations as well. I hadn’t told them before this moment that I had illustrated a book, so it was a very special moment to see their reactions. I really hope this personal journey that I am sharing with these children inspires them to go on to do similar things if they want to.
Once we got past our initial astonishment and picked our jaws off the floor, we made a start. We met Delphi. We met Plato. We met Socrates. They were hooked from the very start. Especially since our topic for this term is all about the Ancient Greeks and our table groups are incidentally named after famous Greek philosophers. When I was reading the prologue, you could hear a pin drop. They were so captivated, and I could tell they were bursting with questions already!
The children responded really well to the activities too. I think they particularly enjoyed pelting me with their ‘why’ questions halfway through the lesson. Most of them wrote down, ‘why do we have to go to school?’, as their very first ‘why’ question. This was quite amusing since only a few moments previously they were angry that Delphi wasn’t allowed to go to school because she was a girl! Our initial discussion on what makes a good person was engaging and the children thought really hard although they struggled to sustain some of their answers. But, again, that just proved to me that Delphi the Philosopher would be a perfect opportunity to take their thinking skills much further.
My favourite moment this week had to be at the very end of the lesson. I had just read the last line of the prologue – “we’re breaking in.” I closed the book and my class went absolutely wild. “No!” “You can’t end it there.” “It’s too long to wait until next Friday.” “Why did you stop there?” I think that it will be the moment I’ll remember each time I revisit Delphi – the sheer frustration that the children had to wait a whole week to find out what would happen next. That is definitely a very good sign that this will work!
Bring on week 2.
We started this website so you could share the fun and learning too. You can start your own journey with the Prologue by clicking the link below, or the full Delphi the Philosopher scheme here.
We hope you have as much fun as we’re having. See you next week!
(Explicit consent has been obtained to publish the photos and videos on this website. Do not copy or replicate these in any way. Many thanks to parents/carers for their support and to Mrs Hegedus, TA superstar, for taking the photos!).