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Structured Conversations for Controversial Issues

Street Law, Inc.

Over 40 years of educating about law, democracy, and human rights

In this method students are engaged in higher reasoning, problem-solving, and decision-making. The activity cultivates creativity and insight, while strengthening social links among participants. This method encourages interaction among students that promotes higher order thinking and the sharing of ideas in exchanges that are not scripted or controlled by the teacher.  It will produce collective understanding of issues, policies, and viewpoints.
  1. Select the topic for discussion.  Make sure it is an important current issue in the community and one that students care about.
  2. Prepare information for the students to read.  Be careful that it explores all perspectives of the issue and covers the topic in some depth.
  3. In class, assign pairs to develop a position on one side or the other.  Be sure to assign equal pairs for each position.  Tell students that they will have to present their position to another pair of students.  Each student will present ½ of the presentation.  Set a time for the two to work on the position and the presentation.
  4. Have two opposing sets of pairs present their positions with rationale to each other.
  5. Have pairs meet to reconsider the topic and plan a presentation from the other perspective or side.  Give short time limits.
  6. The same two pairs should meet and present their new positions (now reversed).
  7. Then, have the two pairs stay in the small group of 4 and have a free discussion about the topic. What do they really think?  They do not have to stick to any assigned position.  The four should try to reach a consensus or decide that they need more information to do so.  Give a time limit for their work.
  8. Debrief with the entire class.  
  • What are the most compelling arguments for both sides?  List.
  • If you question these points, where can you get more information?
  • If you care about this issue what can you do? 
  • What alternatives would you offer and to whom?


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