Most Choices units feature a role play in which students grapple with various policy options for a current or historical issue. However, use of the options framework doesn’t have to be limited to the role-play activity. On occasion, you will want to vary the learning activity while still having your students examine the policy options presented in a unit.
Here are a few suggestions of alternative ways to use the options framework. Some of the activities require students to be familiar with all of the options, while others require students to grapple primarily with one option. We have also listed selected Common Core Standards that are addressed by the activity.
Challenge students to develop effective advertising campaigns to promote the various options to the general public.
Divide students into four groups and assign each group an option. Have each group develop an ad campaigns for its assigned options. They could develop print campaigns, TV ads or online ads. Even if you don’t have access to video equipment, student could develop storyboards for a TV campaign or act their ads out in front of the class.
Common Core: Argumentative writing
Have your students use their artistic talents by creating political cartoons.
Using techniques such as caricatures, labels, captions, symbolism, and irony, have students create political cartoons on the various options. The cartoons could either take supportive or critical points of view of the options to which students are assigned.
Common Core: Reading Anchor Standards 4,6,7,8,
Four Corners Debate
Get your students up and moving while debating the issues.
Students should be familiar with all of the options before participating in this activity. Create four posters, each with one of the following labels, “Strongly Agree,” “Agree,” “Disagree,” and “Strongly Disagree,” and then place each poster in a different corner of the room. Present students with statements that take a stance on various issues pertaining to the core policy issue at the center of the options framework. For example, a statement for the issue of immigration might be, “The greatness of the United States is based on its diversity and openness to fresh ideas.” (If you are using a current issue unit, you can find suggestions for statements in the Teacher Resource Book on the page titled “Focusing Your Thoughts.”) With each statement that is read aloud, instruct students to stand in the corner that best correlates with their views on the statement. Once students have gathered in their respective corners, allow each group to huddle and discuss the reasons why it strongly agrees, agrees, disagrees, or strongly disagrees with the statement. Each group should appoint one or two people to report their reasons to the class. After sharing their views, have students discuss and determine with which option the statement most closely aligns. Read several other statements that reflect the range of options and repeat this same process. You could culminate the activity by assigning a different corner for each option and having students chose the option with which they most strongly agree and stand in the designated corner. Here again students could discuss and share why they chose the option they did.
Common Core: Speaking and Listening Anchor Standards 1-4
Meeting of the Minds
Bring together the various characters that are closely tied to the debate through a “Meeting of the Minds” activity.
Place students in groups of about four or five and have each group member research and represent a prominent individual associated with the central policy issue debate. The selection of characters should represent the full range of options. For example, if you are using the curriculum A Forgotten History: The Slave Trade and Slavery in New England, students can research powerful slave traders and owners, prominent abolitionists, proponents of gradual emancipation, and advocates of sending slaves back to Africa. Once the students have conducted research on their assigned character, have the small groups come together to develop questions around which their characters could engage in a lively group discussion. The questions should serve to elicit controversial and divergent viewpoints. Alternatively, you may wish to provide students with discussion questions. During the actual “meeting of the minds” students need to stay in character, representing the beliefs, assumptions and persona of the character they researched. Encouraging students to dress as their character may enliven the activity. You may also want to do this as a jigsaw activity, allowing students to first work in groups around their assigned character before the various characters converge for their “meeting of the minds.”
Common Core: Speaking and Listening Anchor Standards1-4, 6; Reading 6, 8
Modified Structured Academic Controversy
Develop Common Core Speaking and Listening skills while helping students grapple with contested issues.
Structured academic controversy is a small-group discussion model designed to help students achieve three goals: (1) to gain a deeper understanding of an issue, (2) to find common ground, and (3) to make a decision based on evidence and logic. In its original form, the SAC model has students grapple with a two-sided issue. It can be adapted to incorporate all the options presented in a Choices unit. It is structured so that the discussion follows certain protocols and sequence.
Common Core: Speaking and Listening Anchor Standards 1-4,
Students explore the options by creating a television or radio talk show.
Break the class into groups. Inform students that they will work to create an episode of a television or radio talk show. In creating groups, you could either break them into options groups or bring representatives from multiple options groups together. Students may film a video, tape an audio recording, or create a podcast of their discussion. Students will brainstorm a name and setting of their talk show. Within every group, assign students to the specialist roles that are described in “Presenting your Option” in the Teacher Resource Book. These roles vary by unit, but generally include a group organizer, political expert, economic expert, history expert, social expert, etc. For this activity, the group organizer will take the role of the host, and the experts will discuss the option from the perspective of their assigned role. For example, the economic expert should present the economic justification for his or her option. You may wish to assign other students who are not part of option groups to be members of the audience or people who call into the program with challenging and critical questions about the option that is being discussed.
Common Core: Speaking and Listening 1-4; Reading 1, 2, 6, 7, 8
Challenge students to persuasively advocate for their option in a collaborative writing assignment.
Break the class into option groups. Explain to students that they will need to write a persuasive newspaper article as a group that explains and supports their option. Within every group, you may want to assign students to the specialist roles that are described in “Presenting your Option” in the Teacher Resource Book. These roles vary by unit, but generally include a group organizer, political expert, economic expert, history expert, social expert, etc. Each student specialist will contribute one paragraph to the article. Students should advocate for their option from the perspective of their assigned role. For example, the economic expert should write a paragraph that demonstrates the economic justification for his or her option. The group organizer will be responsible for writing an introduction and conclusion, naming the article, and making sure there are smooth transitions between sections. Students may wish to utilize a collaborative web-based application, such as Google Docs, to create and edit their document online. As an alternative project for current issues topics, groups of students may pick a controversial event or dilemma in the news that relates to the policy debate and write a newspaper article from the point of view of their option. Students may wish to do additional research on the topic to see how their option may be relevant.
Common Core: Persuasive writing
Socratic Seminar/Fishbowl Discussion
Engage your students in a student-driven discussion that explores the strengths and weaknesses of each option.
Students should be familiar with all of the options before participating in this activity. The discussion is not about winning an argument, but rather about deliberating on and expanding one’s understanding of the issues. Students should come prepared for the discussion, with their thoughts and reactions to the options, and also with questions that allow for exploration of the pros/cons and potential ramifications of each option. During the seminar, students should listen actively, share and substantiate their ideas, and pose questions to the other participants to develop a more informed and nuanced understanding of the issue.
In the fishbowl variation, a portion of the class is in the center facing each other in a circle and discussing the issues, while the remainder is on the outside observing and listening. Members of the outer circle should take notes or use an evaluation form to assess the discussion process.
Common Core: Speaking and Listening Standards 1-4
Blogging or Threaded Discussion
Students explore the options through an online discussion. Transform the Socratic Seminar to an online discussion. As with a Socratic seminar (see above) student should be familiar with all the options and should enter the discussion with thoughts and reactions to the options, and also with questions that allow for exploration of the pros/cons and potential ramifications of each option. Alternatively, teachers could break the class into option groups and have each group create a blog post that advocates for their assigned option. Within every group, you may want to assign students to the specialist roles that are described in “Presenting your Option” in the TRB. Each student specialist will contribute to the blog discussion from the point of view of his or her specialized role. Once each of the option groups have presented their case, other class members can contribute commentary to their blog by posting counter-arguments or questions to which the option group would be expected to respond. A good website that can help with this is www.socrative.com.
Common Core: Narrative, Informative and/or argumentative, depending on the guidelines you choose.