The Flashpoints USA series invites students to think about topics that are controversial in nature.
The teaching activities on this site were designed to help teachers lead students through thoughtful discussion
of topics in the series and emerge as better informed citizens who have the tools necessary to understand and
address these complex issues.
When engaging students in discussion, it is important to allow them to express their feelings through
facilitated guidance. Encourage students to be open to diverse ideas, be active and responsive listeners, and
submit opinions. A good idea is to create with them a set of discussion guidelines that allows for non-confrontational
conversation and promotes a safe space for sharing concerns, fears, anger, and ideas.
The complex issues may also cause disagreement. Street Law's Tips for Teaching Controversial Issues
(http://www.streetlaw.org/controversy2.html) can help guide
discussion of difficult topics.
Tips for Teaching Controversial Issues
There are many methods that can be [used] to teach controversial issues in the classroom.
As these issues touch personal beliefs and trigger emotional reactions, these methods are sometimes difficult
to conduct in an orderly fashion. The following rules for handling controversial issues help facilitators and teachers
maintain control of the situation for a perfect lesson.
1. Recognize the general legitimacy of controversy. Controversy is part of society and students must learn to discuss
the issues and problems presented.
2. Establish ordered ways of proceeding; discussions, debates, take a stand, continuum, mediation, etc. Create and agree on effective rules.
3. Concentrate on evidence and valid information.
4. Represent the opposing positions accurately and fairly (balance).
5. Make sure to clarify the issue, so that everyone understands where there is a disagreement and where
there is agreement (to avoid simultaneous monologues).
6. Identify core issues.
7. Avoid the use of slogans.
8. Talk about concrete issues before raising the discussion to a level of abstraction.
9. Allow the students to question your position.
10. Admit doubts, difficulties, and weaknesses in your own position.
11.Teach understanding by restating the perspective of others. Have participants paraphrase what they hear to gain this skill.
12. Demonstrate respect for all opinions.
13. Establish means of closure; examine consequences, [and] consider alternatives.
When presenting information to students, maintain a neutral stance by providing background from varied
sources to allow students to draw informed conclusions. For example, students should explore the pros and cons of a
legislative act to come to fully understand its merits and deficits from diverse perspectives.