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Controversial terms — from “abortion” to “Zionism” — tend to shut down dialogue because they mean different things to different people. Until we fully understand what a term means to someone else, we can’t effectively communicate with them. This lesson plan allows students to dive deep into one particular Hot-Button word, unraveling its nuanced definition as a class. As students figure out what a term means to them, and what it means to others, their skills in civil dialogue will greatly improve.
Estimated Time: One class period
Level: 9th – 12th grade
Skills Focus: Civil Dialogue
By the end of this lesson, students will have learned:
- Collaboration: students will work together and learn from each other through discussion.
- Civil conversation and conflict resolution: students will learn how to listen, understand and respect one another’s views, especially when there are differences of opinion and background.
- Research and analysis: students will have a deeper understanding of different perspectives (including their own, their classmates, and the country at large) through research and discussion.
See how this program complies with Common Core standards.
Tools & Resources Provided By AS4S & Our Partners
Red Blue Dictionary
Find a full list of all our dictionary terms and how people use them, from abortion to Zionism, in our Red Blue Dictionary.
AllSides Topic Pages
The AllSides Topic Pages provide useful background information to familiarize students with the conversation
Find your Bias
A simple bias quiz that can help students self-identify their own biases.
Think Tank Search
Search through Think Tanks that represent different political perspectives:
Suggested Curriculum / Class Plan
For this class, you should select a term from our Red Blue Dictionary to focus on. Examples include “gender,” “immigration,” “abortion,” and “affirmative action.”
Note: this curriculum can be done as a single class or over several class periods. Extending the lesson will allow for a more in-depth understanding.
Homework Prior to Class
Students will read the selected Dictionary term. (Optional: They will also read related terms and Conversation Catalysts, available through the same link.)
Students will spend 20-30 min looking at the most recent news about the selected Dictionary term from different perspectives through our Topic Pages.
Educator divides students into small groups, preferably with a mix of biases. (Educator may need to have students complete a simple bias quiz for homework 2 days prior so the Educator has a chance to evaluate relevant classroom biases, if a similar test has never been conducted previously.)
Check out the “Questions to play with” on your selected term, available in the Red Blue Dictionary. Read through them and have students discuss in their small groups. If time permits, also have students come back into a larger class-wide discussion to share their thoughts.
Final Questions to pose to students, either as homework or just as a wrap up:
- What is one important thing you thought was accomplished here?
- Is there a next step you would like to take based upon the conversation you just had?
Optional Homework Assignments
- Have students write a 300 word reflection after the Hot-Button Words class discussion — what did they learn? Did they have any interesting disagreements? Why do they think the way we define our words matters?
- Have students write a short analysis of one of the words in the Red Blue dictionary: how do they use this term? How do they see others using this term? Is the definition ever complicated? How does this influence political discussion?