Ways to Approach Controversial Topics in the Classroom

Oct 3
use nclass when discussing controversial issues

Ways to Approach Controversial Topics in the Classroom

Whether it’s a hot-button political issue in a social science class, a probing hypothetical in a philosophy course, or ethics in a science class, teachers often find themselves discussing controversial topics with their students. Best case scenario, students come from diverse backgrounds, offer a variety of calm, constructive opinions, and frame all disagreements in a respectful manner. This isn’t always possible, but how can teachers ensure the conditions necessary to facilitate a discussion like this? Easy: Create a comfortable space. Here are some tips:

1. Avoid loaded questions at all costs

The quickest way to stop a controversial discussion in its tracks: make the teacher’s viewpoint obvious and hostile. A teacher might inadvertently create discussion questions that imply a right and wrong answer, putting students that disagree in an awkward place. One way to avoid this is to have a colleague (preferably with different viewpoint) read over your discussion questions before you present them to the class.

2. Ask students to play devil’s advocate

If there seems to be a majority opinion in a class, make students take the opposite viewpoint. This gives students with the minority opinion a chance to add to the discussion without being outed as a dissenter.

3. Give students a new line of communication

In traditional classrooms, teachers can only do so much. After all, students are not anonymous in class, and must face their peers after class. Luckily, you can get those remaining students to open up using a digital line of communication, like our mobile app or web based tool, nClass. Allow students to submit text responses anonymously, without fear of peer judgement. This means students who feel uncomfortable voicing their opinion can still participate. In fact, if responses in the class are positive, a few preliminary anonymous digital comments may encourage students to voice opinions they’d only think about typing before, in turn enriching the class discussion.

What helps you create a comfortable space for controversial discussions? Let us know in the comments. 

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