Civic Conversations

How do educators invest in productive, deep, and transformative dialogue in their classrooms? Civic Conversations is a collaboration between the Edward M. Kennedy Institute’s civic education programming and the community-building dialogic structure practiced by Essential Partners. Explore resources, activities, and lesson structures that support educators as they facilitate difficult conversations, create inclusive learning environments, raise complex discussions, and promote a safe space for students to consider their values and engage in their communities. Policy simulations at the Kennedy Institute reflect the wide range of issues that face our country today. Students debate the best way to reform our immigration system, consider the balance between privacy and security, and think about how to meet the challenge of climate change. As in the real Senate, it’s natural that students will disagree on the best approach to many civic issues. This collection of resources will support educators as they prepare to discuss civic issues, either in preparation for a Kennedy Institute field trip or to practice listening, sharing, and learning in the classroom.

Grades 6-12
Rights and Responsibilities
Modules (Teaching Unit)

From Provocative to Productive: Teaching Controversial Topics

Get first steps for creating a respectful yet vibrant environment for students to explore diverse ideas on controversial topics, from politics to profanity, religion to racism. Four guidelines and a debate leader checklist provide a foundation for those seeking to steer productive conversations about controversial subjects.

Dealing With Controversial Issues/Social Studies in Action Library

This program examines how social studies teachers in any grade level can encourage open and informed discussions with their students while dealing with controversial issues. Topics range from stereotypes and gender–based discrimination to the conflict in the Middle East. Through clearly identifying issues, listening to multiple perspectives, and formulating personal positions, teachers explore strategies that can be used to teach challenging issues such as these in their own classrooms.

Inauguration Day Resources

In this collection, you will find resources for teaching about the inauguration, news lessons surrounding the 2020 election, ways to help students engage in civil discourse, ideas for student civic engagement, strategies for discussing controversial issues in the classroom and more resources about the foundations of democracy and government.

Deliberation Materials: Should the Electoral College Be Abolished?

Should the Electoral College be abolished? This activity includes a deliberation reading and glossary, as well as accompanying handouts to give students additional information on the topic and to guide them through the deliberation process from planning to reflection. Deliberation teaches people how to discuss controversial issues by carefully considering multiple perspectives and searching for consensus. In preparation for deliberations, all participants read common, balanced background information on the issue. During the discourse, they offer arguments for each position on a contested public issue, first drawing from the text and then bringing in their own experiences.

Grades 10, 11, 12
Voting, Elections, Politics
Modules (Teaching Unit)

Deliberation Materials: Is the United States’ Democracy Healthy?

Is the United States’ democracy healthy? This activity includes a deliberation reading and glossary, as well as accompanying handouts to give students additional information on the topic and to guide them through the deliberation process from planning to reflection. Deliberation teaches people how to discuss controversial issues by carefully considering multiple perspectives and searching for consensus. In preparation for deliberations, all participants read common, balanced background information on the issue. During the discourse, they offer arguments for each position on a contested public issue, first drawing from the text and then bringing in their own experiences.

Grades 10, 11, 12
Foundations of Democracy
Modules (Teaching Unit)

Deliberation Materials: Should Voting Be Compulsory in the United States?

Should voting be compulsory in the United States? This activity includes a deliberation reading and glossary, as well as accompanying handouts to give students additional information on the topic and to guide them through the deliberation process from planning to reflection. Deliberation teaches people how to discuss controversial issues by carefully considering multiple perspectives and searching for consensus. In preparation for deliberations, all participants read common, balanced background information on the issue. During the discourse, they offer arguments for each position on a contested public issue, first drawing from the text and then bringing in their own experiences.

Grades 7, 8, 9
Voting, Elections, Politics
Modules (Teaching Unit)

Judicial Independence: Essential, Limited, Controversial

In a constitutional system of government, the role of the judiciary is essential for maintaining the balance of power, protecting individual rights, upholding the rule of law, interpreting the Constitution, and ensuring equal justice for all. In this lesson, students learn about the role of an independent judiciary in the United States.

The Constitution: That Delicate Balance

Constitutional issues come to life in this Emmy Award-winning series. Key political, legal, and media professionals engage in spontaneous and heated debates on controversial issues such as campaign spending, the right to die, school prayer, and immigration reform. This series will deepen understanding of the life and power of this enduring document and its impact on history and current affairs, while bringing biases and misconceptions to light.

Grades 8, 9-12
Rights and Responsibilities
Media