Opinion Continuum

An "opinion continuum" gives students an active way to consider and express their opinions, listen to others' opinions, and begin discussing the issue.Begin by establishing some ground rules for the discussion. Ground rules should include:

  • listen carefully to statements made by other students
  • no interrupting
  • it's okay to disagree

Designate different corners of the room as "Strongly agree," "strongly disagree," and "not sure, don't know or no opinion." Then read a statement and ask each student to react to the statement by moving to the appropriate part of the room.

Begin with a trivial statement, such as "Chocolate is the best flavor of ice cream." Then move on to more serious topics. Here are some possible opinion continuum statements for high school students. These focus on the Iraq War; they can be adapted to reflect the issue at hand.

1. The U.S.occupation of Iraq will make Americans safer in the long run.

2. The U.S. was wrong to wage war in Iraq because no country has the right to decide who should be the leader of another country.

3. Now that U.S. troops are in Iraq, everyone should support the U.S., no matter how they felt before the war began.

4. If people feel what the U.S. is doing in Iraq is wrong, they have a responsibility to speak up about it.

Ask students representing each point of view to state several reasons why they hold their view. Make sure to get a wide range of opinions. It is helpful to summarize what students say to make sure all students understand each perspective. It is also helpful to ask open, probing questions to get more information or clarifying questions to help students think more deeply about their own perspective. A variation is to have each speaker summarize the opinion of the previous speaker before expressing his/her own views.

After several students with different opinions have shared their thoughts, ask if anyone would like to change their opinion based on new information. It is important to acknowledge the value of remaining open to new information and being able to change one's mind when presented with new information. This is a way that we all learn.

These steps can be repeated using other statements from above, or by making up your own statements based on what you think would make sense for your own students. A vital part of this lesson is to provide safety for opinions that might be unpopular within some communities.

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