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: Gun Licensing

Should the federal government require licenses for gun owners and purchasers? 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.

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? (Middle School)

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)

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 8, 9-12, 6, 7
Rights and Responsibilities
Modules (Teaching Unit)

Deliberation Materials: Fracking

Should our state ban or allow hydraulic fracturing (or fracking)? 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.  

Grades 8, 9-12, 6, 7
Citizenship
Lesson Plans