Deliberations are civil discussions among students about public policy. These are very similar to a strategy some teachers use called deliberative discussion.

Purpose         

The purpose of this method is to explore controversial topics effectively in a social studies classroom. The model ensures a “best case fair hearing” for the issue, followed by informed decision making and consensus building among students. It also demands engaged participation from every student in the room. By following a highly scaffolded process, students will be able to advocate both for and against an issue/policy, determine the most relevant and convincing arguments, and search for consensus in small groups. Ultimately, the strategy will help them reach conclusions about important, controversial public policy questions.

This is often an ideal method to introduce controversial issue discussions in a highly structured and non-threatening way, laying the foundation for large-group and whole-class discussions.

Note: this method works best in cases where there are two clear opposing viewpoints (as opposed to an issue with varying perspectives of equal merit).

Procedures   

For an in-depth discussion of this strategy, research to support its use, free deliberation materials, handouts, and lesson plans, visit www.deliberating.org.

  1. Before class, choose a text or texts that provide balanced background and more than one viewpoint about a controversial public policy. Then, prepare a specific deliberation question. The question should be binary, meaning it should require a “yes” or “no” answer. For example, if the topic is juvenile justice, the question might be: “Should our state punish violent juvenile offenders as adults?” As you prepare background material on the issues, be sure to include an equal number of arguments for and against the question. Try to keep the reading short (between one and five pages double-spaced). If possible, number the lines of the text to help students refer to specific points more easily during the deliberation. For examples, go to www.deliberating.org.
  2. Introduction: Review the meaning of deliberation, the reasons for deliberating, and the rules for deliberation.
  3. Careful Reading: Instruct students to read the text together. They should identify confusing terms and note interesting facts or ideas. You may prefer students do the reading as a class or they could do it in groups of four.
  4. Clarification: Check for understanding of the terms and content, and that students understand the deliberation question.
  5. Prepare and Present Positions: Put students into groups of four and then divide each group into pairs, Team A and Team B.
    • Team A prepares for their presentation, finding at least two reasons to say YES to the question. They should take notes about their ideas.
    • Team B does the same, but finds at least two reasons to say NO to the question.
    • Each team then teaches the other team their most compelling reasons for or against the proposal. The other team listens carefully and takes notes.
  6. Reverse Positions: Instruct the students representing the  Team A viewpoints to select the best reason they heard from Team B and to state it. They should then add at least one additional compelling reason from the reading to support Team B's position. Then flip the discussion so the students who initially represented Team B's viewpoints follow the same pattern. Tell students to record their notes.
  7. Free Discussion: Allow students to drop their assigned roles and deliberate the question in their small groups. Tell each student to reach a personal decision based on evidence and logic.
  8. Search for Common Ground: Ask students to try each a consensus on the question. (This may not be possible, but they should try.) They might simply find that both Team A and Team B agree on the cause or significance of the problem.  
  9. Whole-Class Discussion: Lead the class in discussion to gain deeper insight into the question, democracy, and deliberation. You might ask about students’ views, what they learned, how they feel about the process, how the process connects to law-making or democracy.
  10. Student Reflection: Ask students to reflect about the content and skills they learned through the activity. They can do so in class or as homework.