TITLE: TOPICAL DISCUSSIONS AUTHOR: Mike Fitzgerald; McNary High School, Salem, Oregon GRADE LEVEL/SUBJECT: 8 - 12 / American Government OVERVIEW: Since American Government is a class which must rely on student participation through discussion, it is necessary to encourage students to take part in class discussions and to understand the necessity of being able to explain why they believe as they do. PURPOSE: The purpose of this activity is to encourage students to share their opinions on controversial topics and to be able to state why they hold those particular beliefs. OBJECTIVES: As a result of this activity, students will be able to: 1. list the arguments in favor of and against the topic. 2. give reasons for supporting the arguments. 3. write a paper stating their opinion on the topic and give reasons for holding that opinion. This activity works best when the teacher has some knowledge of the students and the class has become acquainted with each other. RESOURCES/MATERIALS: Files of topics and newspaper and magazine articles which express points of view may be helpful. ACTIVITIES AND PROCEDURES: 1. It is important for the teacher to restrain from voicing personal opinions and remember that in this activity any statement from a student is not answered directly. The response to a question would be to phrase another question to the class. 2. Select a controversial topic: ex. public executions. 3. Ask students how they feel about the idea of putting executions on television. 4. As students express their opinions, the teacher asks for reaction or input from other students. 5. It is important for the teacher to see that all students are included in the discussion. 6. As points for and against the proposal are raised they may be listed on the board to keep them from being repeated. 7. It is important that the teacher lead the class from just stating opinions, to explaining why they believe what they say is correct. 8. If necessary to create balance in the discussion the teacher may play "devil's advocate" with questions that will provide thoughts on other points of view. TYING IT ALL TOGETHER: Using the lists of arguments on the board have students state what they believe to be the best solution to the topic. Remember to require that they give reasons for their beliefs and ask them to select at least one point from the opposing view that they feel should be explored more.
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