Creating Powerful Discussions in Social Studies

How do you plan on tackling controversial topics in Social Studies?

We all want our students to engage in a classroom discussion – especially when we are discussing those controversial topics that are embedded into our Social Studies course.  But how do you have really powerful discussions in your classroom? Planning a meaningful discussion in your Social Studies class takes several important steps:

Start With A Question

Your goal for discussion will determine the type of question you ask – Do you want a quick check for understanding and simultaneously build engagement? Simple questions will suffice.  Do you want a meaningful discussion from all students that may take a little longer to discuss? You will need to write an essential question that requires analysis of a topic.

Provide Background Information

Your students can learn about the topic in several different ways – songs, primary source analysis, or content readings.  Make sure you build time into your lesson that allows students to learn the content prior to discussion.

Set Clear Expectations

These need to be determined prior to the lesson and detailed for your students.  Do you want everyone to participate? Explain that this is a requirement.  Do you want students to follow certain rules? Share those prior to the discussion. Rules could be as simple as standing to speak, facing the previous speaker, or choosing the next speaker.

Choose A Strategy

This step goes back to your goal with your question. You can use Question Dice to build engagement or for comprehension checks. You can use Roving Reporters to interview different historical figures.  You can use Write Arounds as a silent discussion before you talk in small groups. Or, you can use Structured Discussions to discuss controversial topics in a controlled classroom setting.   Learn more about these strategies in my Discussion Strategies for Social Studies manual.

Ready to learn more? Check out my online course – Discussion Strategies in Social Studies!


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