Current and Societal Issue Discussions for In-Person, Remote, and Hybrid Classrooms

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

Current and societal issue discussions swirl all around us and affect our daily lives.
  • Which presidential platforms BEST reflect the policy issues that are important to me?
  • How should the federal government prioritize and distribute vaccines for COVID-19?
  • To what extent should internet access be a public good?
  • Should standardized tests be administered while schools adjust to teaching students remotely?
  • Who benefits if Illinoians vote “yes” for the amendment to change Illinois’ personal and corporate income tax from flat to progressive?
The middle and high school civics course requirements outline that students engage in these critical conversations in the classroom. Previous blog posts shared how teachers can engage students to reflect on their lived experiences to inform these important discussions and methods to establish classroom norms and a community to provide a safe environment for such conversations, whether in person or online. The question remains, how can teachers facilitate current and societal issue discussions in an in-person, remote, or hybrid classroom?

Current and societal issue discussions that center student voice provide an opportunity for the youngest members of our communities to acquire and apply content knowledge while building skills that are crucial for the health of our republic. Much like a good lesson plan, engaging classroom discussions rarely just “happen.” These student-to-student conversations take planning, structure, vetted resources, and practice. has resources to support current and societal issue discussions that include texts, step-by-step guides, and video exemplars in our Curriculum Design Toolkit.

Facilitating student-to-student discussion in remote or hybrid learning environments takes a reimagination of traditional strategies used in the classroom. added remote learning guides in our Remote Learning Toolkit for some of the more popular structures to facilitate civil classroom conversations.
  • Philosophical Chairs is a strategy to help students practice methods of persuasion, active listening, and open-mindedness.
  • Socratic Seminar is a protocol designed to help students dive deep into a common text to promote understanding of multiple perspectives, questioning, and an understanding of the lived experiences of others.
  • Structured Academic Controversy is a technique to help students analyze multiple perspectives and reach consensus on complex issues past and present.
No matter what topic you select and strategy you use to incorporate this civic learning practice in your classroom, post-discussion reflection is a crucial element to the success of your conversation. How do we know students are learning? How can we use assessment not merely as an “autopsy” of learning, but as a tool for reflection that enhances the learning process? Here are some tools and prompts that you can incorporate into your practice. How are you engaging student voice in current and societal issue discussions? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare ALL students for college, career, and civic life in face to face, online, or hybrid classrooms.


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