There are hundreds of excellent activities to help introduce students
to a new concept or to wrap up a lesson or unit of study. Sometimes,
teachers want a simple, quick activity to introduce or debrief a
discussion or lesson. A few strategies stand out in civics or
law-related education classes as particularly effective for promoting
critical thinking skills and assessing students' beliefs: opinion polls,
rank-order exercises, and projective techniques.
Typically, a poll allows for a range of opinion (e.g., strongly
agree, agree, undecided, disagree, and strongly disagree). An opinion
poll can serve as a springboard for classroom discussion; give you
feedback on the students’ values, attitudes, and beliefs; and help
assess changes in student attitudes following instruction.
- Decide how you want to conduct the poll. Do you want to use a simple
show of hands? Do you want to use a written, paper poll? Do you want to
use a free online polling tool such as Survey Monkey or Poll
- Decide how many questions you want to include in the poll. Typically, a few questions are more effective than many.
- Write the questions.
- Conduct the poll, first asking students to express their own opinions.
- You should then develop a class composite. This can be done by a simple show of hands.
- Ask students to explain their opinions and to listen to opposing points of view.
- You may wish to follow the opinion poll with a case study on the
subject of the discussion. For example, suppose a number of students
respond to an opinion poll on criminal law by strongly agreeing with the
statement “Criminal offenders should be rehabilitated and not
punished.” This poll could be followed by a case study about a violent
offender with a long record. Do students think this offender should be
punished, or do they still believe he can be rehabilitated?
Another approach to analyzing and discussing student beliefs is a
rank-order activity. The rank-order activity involves making choices
between competing alternatives. For example, students might rank certain
offenses from most serious to least serious. By putting items in
rank-order, students have to prioritize and evaluate various options.
This technique allows students to respond to an open- ended question.
For example, students might be asked to complete an unfinished sentence
such as this: “My advice to the Supreme Court would be _____.” “I wish
the president would _____.” “When I think of the police, I think of
_____.” Likewise, students might be asked to write a caption for an
untitled photo or cartoon.