Civics Education Resource Site

Curriculum Design Toolkit: Current and Societal Issue Discussions

Facilitating student to student discussion provides students an opportunity to deliberate essential questions facing their community. This is an authentic practice to build and practice content knowledge, civic skills, and dispositions. Watch this one hour webinar for an overview of this proven practice of civic education.

Strategies for establishing norms for student discussions, reflection, and closure has curated resources to Create a Safe and Reflective Classroom for teaching civics. Resources include strategies for engaging student voice in creating and maintaining norms.

It is important that students engage in reflective practices throughout the learning process to evaluate how thinking has evolved or clarified, assess the effectiveness of participation and opportunities for growth.

Resources for grounding current and societal discussions in disciplinary content and high-quality texts

Teachers play an important role in facilitating knowledge grounding for discussion. Attributes of knowledge grounding include engaging students to:

  • Analyze a variety of credible texts in order to synthesize information for discussion, taking note of any bias and the author’s purpose.
  • Identify multiple perspectives related to current and societal issues.
  • Synthesize information to address essential and supporting questions related to the discussion.

Sources for content-rich texts to ground discussions

  • Student Government Affairs Program Newsletter provides a monthly newsletter and archive looking a current and societal issues with ideas for informed action.
  • All Sides provides news stories on issues from publications representing the viewpoint of the left, right and center of the political spectrum.
  • The Choices Program empowers students to understand the relationship between history and current issues while developing the analytical skills to become thoughtful global citizens.
  • Illinois Civics provides lesson plans focused on current and societal issues aligned with the Illinois Social Science standards and civic course requirements.
  • KQED - Above the Noise is a YouTube series for teens, cuts through the hype and dives deep into the research behind the issues affecting their daily lives. Every other Wednesday, the series investigates controversial subject matter to help young viewers draw informed conclusions, while inspiring media literacy and civic engagement.
  • National Issues Forum provides issue guides to promote deep inquiry on essential questions facing our communities.
  • has over 90 debate topics complete with pro and con arguments featuring quotes and statistics from experts, historical information, and other pertinent research.
  • The Pulitzer Center - Issues Project provides deep reporting on a single issue.
  • Street Law - Deliberations is a robust library of resources including materials for several topics, social-emotional learning resources to support students as they participate in deliberations, and an instructional video and handouts to help teachers and students understand the deliberation process.

Resources for facilitating current and societal issue discussions

High quality current and societal issue discussions rarely "happen." Much like a good lesson plan, planning and intention are needed to facilitate student to student dialogue. Attributes of successful teacher facilitation allow students to:

  • Employ a variety of rhetorical tools (logos, ethos, pathos) in an effort to inform and understand others.
  • Actively listen and respond appropriately to their peers to corroborate, clarify, question or provide an alternative perspective using appropriate transitions, acknowledging the thoughts of others and inviting others into the conversation to encourage the sharing of multiple viewpoints.
  • Utilize a discussion strategy that is appropriate for the content and focus of the conversation.

Rhetorical Tools

  • The Constitutional Rights Foundation Civic Action Project provides an overview of rhetorical tools with The Basics of Persuasion.
  • Four-Step Refutation Strategies from the Department of Communication, University of Pittsburgh emphasizes the 4 “S’s” of signposting, stating, supporting, and summarizing.

Active Listening

Discussion Strategies

  • The Big List of Discussion Strategies from Cult of Pedagogy provides a plethora of ideas to engage student voice.
  • Dialogue vs. Debate from the United States Institute of Peace explain the difference between dialogue and debate.
  • Education Strategies for Structured Discussion - Northwest Association for Biomedical Research provides a variety of tools to allow for respectful discourse about potentially contentious issues, promote speaking skills and active listening skills, and provide ways for both talkative and quiet students to have their ideas recognized in a productive way.
  • Generation Global connects 6-12th grade students from across the world in dialogue through facilitated videoconferences and team blogging. Conversations are supported with engaging curriculum anchored in essential questions.
  • Ground Rules for Philosophical Chairs is a video that provides and overview of a strategy used help students practice persuasion skills and flexibility and responsiveness to the ideas of others.
  • iCivics has a created a Roadmap for Teaching Current and Controversial Issues with five Teacher Guides and a series of brief informational videos (3-4 minutes) to help you prepare for teaching controversial issues in your classroom.
  • Mismatch powered by AllSides connects students across the country in live video conversations to promote understanding across differences.
  • Move Over Debate, It’s Time to Deliberate from the Civic Education Research Group demonstrates the Structured Academic Controversy (SAC). The SAC is used to expose students to multiple perspectives on an issue before engaging in a discussion to reach consensus.
  • The National Museum of African American History and Culture has developed excellent resources on how to discuss race with all ages.
  • Socratic Seminars in Science from US National Library of Medicine provides materials and a framework for discussion of open issues to promote understanding of complex topics.
  • Stefanie Wager, the Iowa Social Studies Consultant, has put together 75 Tools to Improve Student Learning which includes an overview of discussion strategies like hexagonal thinking, Think-Pair-Share and Concentric Circles.

Remote learning resources to support current and controversial issue discussions has created remote learning guides for some of the more popular discussion structures.

Facing History and Ourselves has iterated many of its most popular techniques for remote learning.

  • Barometer helps students share their opinions by asking them to line up along a continuum based on their position on an issue. It is especially useful when you want to discuss an issue about which students have a wide range of opinions.
  • Class Contracting is an effective strategy for making your classroom a reflective and respectful community.
  • Big Paper Talk can be used to help students explore a topic in-depth, slow down their thinking, and focus on the views of others. In a virtual Big Paper discussion, students respond to a stimulus, such as an interview audio clip or historical document, using a collaborative digital-tool.
  • Wraparound is used to invite all students to share brief responses during a synchronous session, or asynchronously during a defined time period. This strategy provides an efficient way for all students in a class to share their ideas about a question, topic, or text, revealing common themes and ideas in students’ thinking.

Kialo is a tech tool that helps students master critical thinking and reasoning skills. It allow students to introduce questions, the chance to discuss those questions and evaluate claims.

Engaging student voice and lived experiences to generate questions for current and controversial issue discussions

The K-12 Illinois Social Science standards honor student voice as an important inquiry tool for generate both essential and supporting questions for classroom use. Here are tools teachers can use to engage students in using their lived experiences and curiosity in forming questions for deliberation and discussion.

Resources to promote anti-racism practices while engaging in Current and societal issue discussions has reached out to experts like Amber Mortley Coleman to curate resources in an Anti-Racism Toolkit for Classrooms as well as an Anti-Racism Toolkit for Families.

Resources and Strategies for Using Discussion Boards

The Illinois Civics blog post "Making the Most of Discussion Boards" shares tips and tools to leverage online dialogue.

Helping Students Process Traumatic Current Events

The Illinois Civics blog post "Resources to Respond to Tragedy and Violence" provides guidance on how to listen, be present, and support students when bad things happen.