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.

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

Civil Conversation: Immigration Enforcement Raids

Controversial legal and policy issues, as they are discussed in the public arena, often lead to polarization, not understanding. This Civil Conversation activity offers an alternative. In this structured discussion method, under the guidance of a facilitator, participants are encouraged to engage intellectually with challenging materials, gain insight about their own point of view, and strive for a shared understanding of issues. This lesson plan addresses the debate over the policies of the federal agency – Immigration and Customs Enforcement – that investigates and enforces the nation’s immigration laws.

Flag Burning: Texas v. Johnson (1989)

This lesson explores Texas v. Johnson, the controversial 1989 Supreme Court decision on flag burning. First, students read about and discuss Texas v. Johnson. Then in small groups, students role play aides to a U.S. senator on the Judiciary Committee. The committee is considering a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning flag burning, and the aides must make a recommendation on whether the senator should support or oppose the proposed amendment.

Grades 9-12
Rights and Responsibilities
Lesson Plans