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Human Nature: Good or Evil?

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  • Language Arts
  • Current Events
  • Philosophy


  • 6-8
  • 9-12

Brief Description

Stage a debate or write an essay in response to the question Is human nature inherently good or inherently evil?


Students will

  • engage in informal group discussions, pose questions and debate answers, think critically, and contribute their own information and ideas.
  • define good and evil.
  • support, in writing, their contention that human nature is good or evil.


human nature, good, evil, philosophy, debate, essay, persuasive

Materials Needed

  • dictionaries
  • copy of the Kids Philosophy Slam Debate contest rules
  • overhead projector
  • paper and word processor
  • newspaper or magazine articles that express human nature as good
  • newspaper or magazine articles that express human nature as evil

Lesson Plan

Day One: Introduction to Philosophy
Begin the lesson by introducing the Kids Philosophy Slam Debate contest rules. Project the rules and information on an overhead, read them aloud, or provide each student with a copy.

Next, write the word philosophy on the chalkboard. Discuss the meaning of the word and its Greek origins:

  • philo = lover
  • Sophia = goddess of wisdom
  • philosopher = one who loves wisdom, one who pursues wisdom
Tell students that they are all philosophers, because they all have questions and they all pursue wisdom. Human beings are, by nature, questioners. One of a human's first sentences is often "Why?" Our questions are inexhaustible.

Distribute dictionaries. Have students look up the words human, nature, good, and evil in the dictionary, and then write the words and definitions in their notebooks. Discuss whether or not human nature (the core or essence of humanity) is good or evil. Clarify the difference between nature and action; explain that the former is our being, the latter is our choice.

Day Two: Human Nature as Good
Using personal examples and articles from newspapers and magazines, lead a direct lesson on human nature as good. This lesson should be as convincing as possible, and deliberately biased. Students can take notes as their peers provide support for the argument that human nature is, by nature, pure, good, and undefiled. Society corrupts human nature; life's hardships and limitations may make human nature seem evil, but it is important to stress in todays lesson that at their core, human beings are good. After making the case, open the floor to students who want to provide information that will support the contention that humans are naturally good. Again, this lesson should be deliberately biased. For homework, assign students to find newspaper and magazine articles that support the contention that humans are good by nature.

Day Three: Human Nature as Evil
"So, human nature is evil, right?" Begin todays lesson with that question. (Students will be amazed or groan at your sudden turnaround -- since just yesterday you convinced them that the opposite was true!) This lesson will challenge students to think critically. Encourage them to cite events that seem to indicate that humans are innately evil. Lead the lessons with a focus on how laws, family, and religion keep human nature in check; without those devices human beings would revert to their true nature, which is evil. Let students join in with any thoughts, questions, reflections, insights, and comments that support the argument that humans are evil by nature. For homework, encourage students to find examples demonstrating that human nature is evil.

Day Four: Student Discussion
Arrange students into small discussion groups of four or five students. Challenge them to think critically as they engage in discussions about human nature as good or evil. Ask them to consider the following: Do they experience more evil or good in people? Is that evil or good a true representation of human nature? What do their own experiences support? Then, have students analyze one another's positions, break down the question, and begin to discriminate. Each student should take notes on a T-chart with the headings good and evil at the top of the page. As group discussions ensue, have students write ideas and facts that support each point of view under the appropriate heading.

Day Five: Taking Sides
Students work in small groups again. Now the note taking and debating is over and they must choose one side or the other (good or evil). Circulate throughout the room to be sure discussions focus on the nature of human character, not on the actions of particular humans. Students will have a lot to say!

At the end of the group discussions, have each student write a brief proposal of his or her position, listing at least three personal reasons (personal experiences) to justify that position. Students will turn in those papers at the end of the period.

Days Six-Ten: Writing Essays
Students begin writing an essay of 500 words or less. They should start with a thesis ( human nature as good or evil), and include in the body of the essay personal examples that support that idea. During this week, students write, edit (self and peer), and revise their papers until they are ready to hand in. Do a quick final edit to ensure that the format has been followed.

When all essays are collected, students might compare them to some of The Kids Philosophy Slam Winners on this topic.

Lesson Plan Source

The philsophyslam.org contest inspired this lesson.


Assessment will take be based on group discussions, a written proposal of each students position with personal examples to support it, and a final 500-word essay that clearly supports via personal examples whether human nature is good or evil.

Submitted By

Patricia Rose Pflaumer, Abington (Massachusetts) High School

Originally published 01/23/2003
Last updated 05/19/2008

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