Tag Archives: socrates

Do we have to suffer to be successful?

Students might be asking themselves this very question as the pandemic has upended many of their life goals. Here’s a conversation that can give them an opportunity to express themselves.

“There is no success without hardship.” Sophocles

The Big Idea: Going through hard times is something most everybody has to do. Some people face hardship and turn away. They become discouraged and think that success is unattainable. Others see hardship as an opportunity for self-motivation, goal-setting and a fresh re-evaluation of values. Students must determine whether to see hardship as a barrier or an opportunity, and accept the consequences underlying the choices they make.

Claim: Here Greek playwright Sophocles is saying that a person must go through hard times to be successful. Success doesn’t come easy.

Counterclaim: But sometimes success comes easy. You don’t need to go through hardship. You just need to be at the right place at the right time.

Essential Question: Do we have to suffer to be successful?

COPY this assignment, send to students and start the conversation!

Integration Idea: I want to help the students find some sort of positive meaning from the Coronavirus crisis. The conversation with Sophocles on hardship would be a great tool to encourage self-reflection on the fact that sometimes a person has to go through difficult times to achieve success. I could use the essential question, “Do we have to suffer to be successful?”, as an exit slip after the conversation. We could refer back to their responses at different times to consider the role suffering plays in our quest for success.

This resource comes from Teach Different, where you can sign up to receive weekly conversation starters like this.

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“The Supreme Art of War is to Subdue the Enemy without Fighting.” Sun Tzu

“Your silence will not protect you.” Audre Lorde

“The only thing I know is that I know nothing.” Socrates

The Big Idea: All students have run across “know-it-alls”. They might be one themselves. They walk into a room and express supreme confidence with their knowledge. Being humble is seen as a sign of weakness. Then there are those timid students who wait patiently, ask questions and only speak when they are certain of something. Confidence and humility are noble traits. The life-long challenge is striking the right balance between the two.

Claim: According to famous Greek philosopher Socrates, you should question what you think you know. It’s important to be humble and admit that you don’t have the answers.

Counterclaim: You should have confidence in what you know. Certainty is important.

Essential Question: Should we question what we are sure of?

COPY assignment, send to students and start the conversation!

Integration Idea: I see this essential question and conversation as a great way to begin or end a school year. At the beginning it would establish an importance to the value of being humble with what you know and being open to questioning. It would also give you a good insight into the types of students in your class who are more inquisitive versus the ones who demand certainty. At the end of the year, it would inspire the students to reflect upon the importance of questioning and what they learned. You could ask the students to write about examples in the curriculum where there were no clear answers and where it was important to keep questioning what was being learned.

These free resources are from Teach Different, where you can sign up to receive weekly conversation starters.

Other posts you may like:

Are you more like an alien or monster with your students?

Let’s imagine what a course organized by essential questions might look like.

“To do nothing is also a good remedy.” Hippocrates

The Big Idea: Children confront problems everyday. Some are small like how to study for an exam or get a ride to school, and some large like how to support their friends who are in unhealthy relationships. All of these problems involve the choice of whether to intervene or do nothing and let the situation play itself out. This choice is always hard because we never really know the future and must rely on our instincts in the moment.

Claim: According to famous Greek physician Hippocrates sometimes the best way to solve a problem is not to intervene. Let the problem resolve itself.

Counterclaim: But sometimes intervention is necessary to solve problems because people are unable or unwilling to do it themselves.

Essential Question: How do we know when we should intervene to solve problems?

COPY assignment, send to students and start the conversation!

This resource is from Teach Different, where you can sign up to receive weekly conversation starters.

Other posts you may like:

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Sun Tzu

What is respect?

“Your silence will not protect you.” Audre Lorde

The Big Idea: Students make moral decisions everyday. Usually these decisions revolve around specific actions they take like helping a friend, cheating on a test or obeying curfew. But students also make moral decisions by being silent after witnessing the immoral behavior of others. In these situations, the impulse for self-protection overrides moral obligations. Learning how to choose whether or not to be silent in the midst of injustice is an important part of moral development.

Claim: According to American writer and feminist Audre Lorde, if you don’t speak up, your voice will never be heard. If you don’t stand up for yourself, then you will get taken advantage of. If you don’t stand up against injustice, it will never go away and it will be knocking at your door soon.

Counterclaim: Sometimes being quiet is the right thing to do. You need to be silent to protect yourself or a friend. Minding your own business can offer protection as well.

Essential Question: How do we know when to be silent?

COPY assignment, send to students and start the conversation!

These resources are from Teach Different, where you can sign up to receive weekly conversation starters.

Other posts you may like:

“The Supreme Art of War is to Subdue the Enemy without Fighting.” Sun Tzu

Teaching the Articles of Confederation–with an assist from MLK.”

An AP government student asked a really great question and here’s what happened…


Students come up with stunningly good questions.

Sometimes those questions take over the class.

I just experienced this first hand during a discussion on Plato’s Crito and Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail  (one of the required documents in the redesigned AP government course.) Continue reading

Where can I find Big Questions? Ask a child.


It seems paradoxical but it’s not.

Children’s stories capture our imagination, make us wonder, and reveal the inherent mysteries of life in the simplest and most profound ways.

They can also motivate teachers and students of all grade levels and subjects to ask Big Questions.

You’ve already seen how the Araboolies of Liberty Street by Sam Swope can be used to teach the Civil Rights Movement and the 1st Amendment and how Swimmy by Leo Lionni can be used to teach the meaning of bravery in the Abolitionist Movement.

But there’s so much more.

The University of Washington Center for Philosophy of Children has a treasure trove of over 100 children’s stories along with innovative ideas on how to use these stories to introduce Big Questions in the classroom. Most of the stories can be adapted seamlessly to fit the middle and high school audience.

Consider these stories and the Big Questions they inspire:

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Is the proper role of government to help citizens or to encourage citizens to help themselves?




The Big Box by Toni Morrison
Who gets to decide who is free? or What does it mean to have freedom?




If you Give a Mouse a Cookie  by Laura Numeroff
Are historical events determined to happen or can humans change the course of history through their choices?


You might think you can’t use children’s stories, especially in a high school class! It’s too basic and simplistic. The kids will think you are insulting their intelligence.

Dispense with this thinking! Each time I’ve introduced a children’s story, I have found most of my students alert, intrigued and ready to think. This is because I’m drawing upon something familiar and creating a safe space for them to think. It’s the perfect entry point for asking Big Questions.

The best part is that you can come back to the children’s story repeatedly as you work your way through different units, all the while reinforcing the importance of the original Big Questions the story inspired. This strategy would be particularly valuable in an English class with a novel.

What children’s story do YOU use (or could you use) in your classroom?

Next Post: Where can I find Big Questions? Ask a Philosopher

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What does an Essential Question look like?


Though Socrates made asking questions seem deceptively simple, it’s actually a complex process. Here are a few criteria to creating the kinds of deep questions that lead to incredible conversations.

Continue reading