Your students come from various backgrounds and may have differing political, religious, or social viewpoints. Some material may cause tensions to arise between students who hold opposing views. While it may seem easier to avoid them, exploring deeply divisive topics in the classroom allows students to think critically, examine their own beliefs, and learn to respectfully communicate with those who hold differing opinions.
Provide pre-discussion assignments
Prior to teaching hot-button issues explain to students why the material is included in the syllabus. Before beginning the discussion, give students the opportunity to reflect on the topic, and activate their prior knowledge through readings, or short answer questions.
Establish discussion guidelines in advance
In order to ensure that the discussion remains civil and productive, clearly state the rules you expect your students to abide by when discussing controversial topics. A handout that reiterates your guidelines for acceptable language and behavior, can be helpful in making sure that tensions don’t boil over.
- Vanderbilt University: Difficult Dialogues
- Indiana University: Managing Difficult Classroom Discussions
- University of Minnesota: Preparing for and Facilitating Sensitive Discussion (pdf)