Three Chairs

the outline of three chairs rendered in angular pink lines

ALLI POIROT ’02 MAT’03, a history teacher at Asociación Escuelas Lincoln in Buenos Aires, Argentina, created a discussion protocol dubbed “three chairs” to help students hear multiple views on an issue, and to collect ideas, evidence, and reasons to support other perspectives. The protocol can be used at the beginning of a unit to stoke interest in a major theme, part way through a unit to assess understanding of a key idea, or at the end of a unit to open up discussion and allow students to synthesize their knowledge. Want to try it in your classroom? Follow this process.


1. Arrange three chairs at the front of the classroom, facing the class.
2. Tell students to turn to a new blank page in their notebook and to turn
the notebook sideways (landscape orientation).
3. Have students draw two lines to make a simple three-column chart.
4. Post the question for the discussion on the board and have your students write it at the top of their chart. The question needs to be binary, yet both ‘sides’ should be arguable. Sample prompts:
a. Does nature or nurture contribute more to who we are? b. Who was more important in the American Revolution, “great men” or everyday people? c. Was the Civil Rights Movement successful?
5. Label the columns on the board, underneath the question (one for each chair), and have students label these in their chart. Columns can be Yes/No, or other binaries (Great Men/ Everyday People; Nature/Nurture;

etc.). The middle column (and chair) should be labeled “Questions.”

  1. Students begin by taking three to five minutes to populate their chart with initial ideas/reasons/ examples/evidence for each column. Suggestion: encourage your students to include at least one or two ideas in each column before they begin discussion. It’s also helpful to clarify that these ideas/evidence/reasons can be what anyone may think, not just the student’s own opinions.
  2. Explain the rules of three chairs.
  3. While the discussion is running, students add to their charts when hearing others’ ideas. Keep track of who has contributed so if there is a lag, you can prod students to go up.


  • One person at a time.
  • One idea at a time. To present an idea, sit in the appropriate response chair for the evidence you want to

give and offer one reason/evidence/ example for why someone might choose that response to the prompt.

  • If you hear an idea you think is good/ helpful, add it to your own chart.
  • Everyone must go up at least once before anyone can go up again.
  • If you have a question, sit in the question chair to ask. You choose classmates you want to respond until you are satisfied with the answers.


  1. Have students circle the best two to three ideas they heard, in any column.
  2. Have students reply to the prompt in their own words, with their own opinion, at the bottom of the chart (or on the next page).
  3. Debrief with the class- what was it like hearing other viewpoints and reasoning? How was your own thinking affected by the discussion?