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Guidelines for Developing Your Question Set

The question set is intended to guide adults who are interested in using the book you have chosen to have a philosophical discussion with children. The adult might be a parent, a teacher, or someone like yourself, who enjoys interacting with children. You have to assume that the adult will not, unlike you, have any training in how to discuss philosophical issues with children. Your questions have to guide them. A good example of a question set is provided at the end of chapter 9 of Big Ideas for Little Kids. The story it uses is "Dragons and Giants," so I'll also focus on that story here.

Here is how you should develop the questions:

First, be clear on what the topic is that your questions in each group will address. This should be written in bold at the top of each groups of questions. I’ll use “Dragons and Giants” as an example to help you. One group of questions will deal with the notion of Bravery and Fear. After that, you should summarize the relevant portion of the book from which the question is drawn, e.g. "Frog and Toad encounter many scary things on their walk and run from each of them." You then should have a series of around four questions on the topic being discussed. The first question or two in each group should have pretty easy answers. The idea here is to get the kids talking. But be wary of asking questions that have obvious “yes” or “no” answers, since that will not lead to much discussion. If you do want to ask one of those, be sure to include a “why,” so the kids say more than just “yes” or “no.” Earlier questions in each group should be more concrete, later ones more abstract. For example, if you are doing “Dragons and Giants,” you might have this question early on, “Have you ever done something really brave?” This sort of question, although it has the danger of getting the kids to launch into long stories, is one that they can answer relatively easily from their own experience.

The questions should follow one another in a logical order. So, to follow up the last question, you might put this as the next one: “Were you scared when you did that brave thing?” This question could, in turn, be followed up by a very abstract one, such as “Do you think people can be brave and still scared when they do the brave thing?”

If possible, the final question of each group should be a sort of summing up question. The idea here is to leave the kids with a sense that you actually got somewhere in the discussion. It’s important that they not think that the entire discussion was simply pointless and confusing. When you are actually working with the children, you can say something like, “I think we’ve had a really interesting discussion so far. We’ve talked a lot about bravery and fear, and I think we’ve wound up saying that you can be scared when you do something brave, even though that’s not where we started out.” Since we can’t be sure that the web-based facilitator will be able to improvise in that way, try to end each group with a question that gets the kids to think about that, such as, “So what have we said about the connection between being scared and being brave?”

A question set should consist of around four groups of questions dealing with specific topics. With “Dragons and Giants,” the topics might include Looking Brave, Being Brave and Scared, Being Brave and Stupid, and The Nature of Bravery. Note that the different topics should also proceed from more concrete to more abstract.

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