The lesson will begin with students and the teacher demonstrating common public speaking mistakes. That activity is designed to make students feel more comfortable with the process and to remind them how common it is to make a mistake when public speaking, but at the same time it is no big deal if they do so. The teacher will then introduce the idea of an issue night as well as provide students a brief overview of issues. During this time, students will line up in a continuum in terms of their feelings on the issue...the activity is meant to help them determine how strongly they feel about the issue, but it won’t single them out because no one will know how they feel, just how strongly they feel. Students will then go through a few days of research during which they will work on skills such as: evidence gathering, organized notes, analysis, counterclaim, etc...The activity concludes with an all-school presentation, preferably at night so parents and community members can attend.
Rationale for the lesson
Students do not always have access to positive examples of expressing political views. This deficiency is nothing new; it dates back to our founding fathers in a sense. Just as Jefferson and Adams anonymously sniped back and forth in the newspaper, major political figures today do the same. The point of this process is to help students find solid grounding in their beliefs, but also to learn to back up what they say with facts. Another important aspect of the lesson is to help students determine their own beliefs and values on issues independent of their teacher, peers or family, and independent of allegiance to a particular party. For example, students can’t just say they support an issue because their party or candidate does; they have to develop allegiance to their own values instead. This activity is one of the most valuable I have done in my career in teaching. Make sure you sit back and help guide students to find their own beliefs, do not interject your own. There is no scenario I can think of that the teacher pushing their own beliefs would end well...being a supportive guide for your students, however, will result in a very fulfilling process that students and parents will find very valuable, and challenging students of all views will be valuable as they sort out what they truly believe.
Prerequisite knowledge and skills
Absolutely nothing. Students have a wide range of knowledge on these issues, and in a sense, that could be a disadvantage. If students know nothing, great, they’ll do research and begin building their understanding and base of knowledge. If they have some knowledge on political issues to begin with, that is just fine, but it might make it harder for them to conduct research on strong counter claims.