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Ways to get young school children discuss controversial topics in class

Ways to get young school children discuss controversial topics in class

Saturday May 05, 2018,

4 min Read

In light of the increasing amount of gun violence that has plagued the United States of America, a school in a district town of Georgia was in the news for assigning students of seventh grade with the task of writing letters to the lawmakers and government authorities urging them to take measures on gun-control. Some have condemned the stance of a certain teacher to assign tasks on a controversial topic. But it’s also important to make the students aware of what’s happening around them in a subtle way. Here, the key is to know how much information is too much for them.


So here’s a lowdown on how to introduce or get a student to open up more about a controversial or sensitive topic.

Controversial issues and the learning environment:

While many teachers may shy away at the thought of teaching students about the controversial topics and issues, thinking that controversy is often unsettling and requires appropriate reasoning capabilities, which small school students don’t possess. But irrespective of how sensitive an issue is, having a positive learning environment makes a student more confident about expressing their views on any controversial or sensitive issue.

The meticulous planning and management often play an integral part when in getting the students discuss sensitive or controversial issues.

Sometimes a particular topic may incite thoughts and emotions on a very personal level, which can lead the students to express strong and often extreme reactions which may not go down well with his/her peers. It may also happen that some of your students have been on the receiving end of the issue under discussion. All in all, there will be tricky situations that a teacher has to tackle while addressing a sensitive issue within a classroom.

So listed out below are some measures that can be taken to introduce a controversial or sensitive topic to the students.

• Recognize the potentially sensitive and controversial issues before approaching them in class in front of the students and make the students aware of those topics beforehand. In this case, you also need to keep in mind that may be issues which seems normal to the teachers, but not quite so for the students.

• Offering students with the chance to raise any concerns with the teachers outside of class without having to elaborate on their experiences to the teacher.

• Providing a generic awareness of the support services that students can opt for if the prospect of teaching the topic has serious implications. This makes the students realize that the teacher takes their emotions and predicaments seriously and also effectively raises awareness about the issues.

• The teachers should ensure that the topic shouldn’t be the compulsory part of the assessment. For instance, a question on a different topic should be offered in the process of assessments and students must be made aware whether they have to learn the information or not on the relevant topics

• If the topic is optional, then the teachers should ensure that students are aware of all the other topics covered so that they can decide on whether to select the module or not.

• Encourage the students to nurture a positive environment from the first day of an academic session. Any open discussion can be carried out only if students are comfortable working together.

• Teachers need to provide ample opportunities to discuss and express individual views of the students on an issue which is less overwhelming but controversial enough to initiate a balanced discussion.

• The teachers should elaborate on the context and parameters of the discussion clear at the very beginning, they need to check the students’ understanding of any concept on the topic of discussion. This might involve offering main definitions, or utilizing materials like video clips or infographic to ensure students are working with similar information.

So as long as the teachers promote an appropriate learning environment, any topic, controversial or not, can be taught to the children. 

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