Handling Controversial Topics in Discussion

Resource Title:
Handling Controversial Topics in Discussion

Many instructors consciously avoid controversial issues in the classroom because of the difficulty involved in managing heated discussions. However, controversy can be a useful, powerful, and memorable tool to promote learning. Research has demonstrated that conflict or controversy during classroom discussion can promote cognitive gains in complex reasoning, integrated thinking, and decision-making. The links in this section offer guidance for how instructors can successfully manage discussions on controversial topics.

Guidelines for Discussing Difficult or High-Stakes Topics

The Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT) has developed guidelines to help instructors facilitate classroom discussion when controversial or tragic incidents become foremost in students' minds. The page offers general guidelines as well as links to guidance on specific topics, including racial conflict, affirmative action and others.

Making the Most of Hot Moments in the Classroom (CRLT)

CRLT developed this brief handout to offer instructors ways to make the most of "hot moments" as learning opportunities. It includes specific strategies to prepare for, respond to, and follow up after eruptions of tension or conflict in the classroom. 

Managing Hot Moments in the Classroom (Warren, 2000)

The challenges of dealing with “hot moments” are 1) to manage ourselves so as to make them useful and 2) to find the teaching opportunities to help students learn in and from the moment. This resource suggests tips for instructors faced with hot moments in the classroom.

Tactics for Effective Questioning (Stanford University)

This posting on tactics for effective questioning is adapted from Tools for Teaching, a book by Barbara Gross Davis, Assistant Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, University of California, Berkeley.