Introducing philosophy texts to your secondary students can be difficult. That's why we have collected these 6 short, yet thought provoking philosophy readings to support your ELA instruction! Students will be sure to build reading comprehension and critical thinking skills with these texts from famous philosophers.
“On Reverence for Parents” by Zhao Ban (8th Grade)
In this philosophy text written by Chinese Historian Zhao Ban, girls are given guidelines for behaving appropriately for their parents. Focusing on concepts promoting piety and respect that date back to the writings of Confucius, Ban’s ideas are seen as the ideal way girls and women should conduct themselves in traditional Chinese culture.
After reading this passage, have students complete Discussion Question 1, “Do you think the themes of this text are still relevant today? Do you think a change has occurred in the way children relate to and treat their parents?” Encourage students to cite evidence from the text and their personal experience to support their thinking.
“On Tragedy” by Aristotle (9th Grade)
In this excerpt from “Poetics,” Aristotle explores how tragedy connects to human emotion in literature. He identifies key factors that are unique to tragedies such as complex plots, change of fortune for main characters, and ultimately an unhappy ending that closely mimics life.
Enhance this philosophy text by pairing “On Tragedy” with “The Legend of Oedipus.” Ask students to evaluate and discuss if the legend aligns with Aristotle’ definition of tragedy.
“The Two Brothers” by Leo Tolstoy (9th Grade)
In this philosophy short story, after two charitable brothers stumble upon a pile of gold, they clash on the best way to handle the fortune. The older brother, Athanasius, runs away from the gold, while the younger brother, John, spreads the wealth across his village. When John later tries to visit Athanasius, an angel won’t let him pass. The angel explains that Athanasius knew the gold was a test left by the devil. Before he can reunite with his brother, John must reflect on his true motivations for sharing the gold.
As students read, have them take notes on the way events throughout the story hint at the ending. Students can complete Discussion Question 5, “In the context of this story, how do people create change? Is it better to have good intentions and simple actions, or money, to create change? Cite evidence from this text, your own experience, and other literature, art, or history in your answer.”
“Excerpt from ‘Self- Reliance'” by Ralph Waldo Emerson (11th Grade)
In this excerpt from the famous philosophy text“Self Reliance,” Emerson discusses how people should think and act for themselves and refuse to blindly follow the crowd. He believes that the world encourages individuals to accept mainstream ideas and beliefs. In order to avoid conformity, it is important to lean into our individualism and know our own truth.
After reading, pair this excerpt with Charlotte Harrison’s “Conformity.” Ask students to compare each piece’s stance and discuss if conforming is good or bad and necessary or unnecessary.
“‘Three types of friendships’ – Excerpt from Nicomachean Ethics” by Aristotle (11th Grade)
This philosophy text explores the different types of friendship and the motivation behind caring for others. Aristotle believes all friendships start for one of three reasons; usefulness, pleasure, and good virtue. He explains that the expected longevity of a friendship can be determined by identifying the catalyst for starting the relationship.
Students can complete Discussion Question 2, “In the context of the text, what is a friend? Do you agree with how Aristotle defines a perfect friendship? Why or why not? Do you think there are circumstances in which it is acceptable to have friendships of varying quality? Why or why not?”
“Allegory of the Cave” by Plato (11th Grade)
In this philosophy short story, after being imprisoned in a cave for his entire life, a man becomes comfortable and accepts his simple reality. When released into the world, he is initially overwhelmed and must adapt to face new challenges. With endless knowledge and opportunities ahead of him in the outside world, he soon realizes how miserable life was while stuck in the cave.
Students can complete Discussion Question 1, “To what extent do you believe that ignorance is like a prison or a cave? How can a lack of knowledge about something keep people "in the dark?" How might lack of knowledge prove harmful?”
“Excerpt from ‘Civil Disobedience'” by Henry David Thoreau (12th Grade)
Throughout his life, Henry David Thoreau supported people fighting against unjust institutions. In this excerpt from “Civil Disobedience”, Thoreau describes his beliefs on the ability of individuals to create change and to do what is right, even if it is hard.
After reading this philosophy text, show students this related media on Thoreau and Civil Disobedience. Ask students to discuss how President Polk’s policies influenced Thoreau to write Civil Disobedience and how his views differed from the popular views of this time period.
Looking for more secondary texts by famous philosophers? Browse the Psychology and the Mind text set on the CommonLit Library!
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