Delivery of the lessons

Ethics lessons are designed to delivered by the child-friendly Community of Inquiry (CoI) method. The Victorian Association for Philosophy in Schools (VAPS) uses this method specifically in a course on the teaching of ethics.

In addition to the Community of Inquiry, several other techniques have been developed in Australia and the USA to make the job easy and enjoyable for the teacher. These techniques include:

  • Ask three questions
  • Changing your mind
  • Counter examples
  • Developing analogies
  • Making distinctions
  • Making connections
  • Matching
  • More or less
  • Oppositional drawings
  • ‘Silly sausage’
  • ‘Traffic lights’

[Philip Cam, Liz Fynes-Clinton, Rosie Scholl and Simon Vaseo, Philosophy with Young Children—A Classroom Handbook, Australian Curriculum Studies Association, 2007]

Community of Inquiry begins with the children in a group seated in a circle either on the floor, if very young, or in chairs of suitable height near a white/blackboard or an easle. ‘Traffic light’ discs of green, red and yellow, respectively, are distributed to each child and one is asked to draw a three column grid on the board and labelled as shown below lower left. (Children love doing this.)

The introductory material or story is read by the children themselves if possible. Then casual discussion is initiated by ‘Ask three questions’, see table. Normally the tutor gets little or no response to the first two questions, ie., Q 1, “What were you thinking of whilst listening to the story?” and Q 2, “What did you like?”, but when Q 3 is asked, “What didn’t you like?” enthusiastic response frequently explodes in no uncertain terms.

When all the material seems absorbed by the children the questions or scenarios shown in each of the accompanying lessons are then put and the children are asked to indicate their opinion by raising the appropriate ‘traffic light’ disc, i.e., green for “agree”, red for “disagree” and yellow for “no answer”, etc. (Boys like to be told that yellow also means, “don’t know, don’t care”, which is a sure way to get their wrapt attention.) The other teaching techniques shown in the table are used as described in the lessons themselves. The numbers of the ‘agree’, ‘disagree’ and ‘no answer’ opinions are tallied and entered onto the board.

In the brief time remaining in a thirty minute period the children are asked what the class is thinking about the lesson material. In the event that something is overlooked the tutor can mention it, but usually all sides to the topic will be covered wonderfully and the CoI can be deemed a success without the tutor being didactic.

(The ‘traffic lights’ method, when combined with the Community of Inquiry, can elicit cogent responses from children as young as three and a half years!)

Some of the science lessons would be better done with kitchen utensils in the home. The relevance of science to ethics is controversial among the philosophers, but experiments are included here to illustrate the scientific method and provide some very enjoyable lessons.

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