Purpose

The Take a Stand, Fair/Unfair, and Continuum methods have similar purposes and procedures. They are especially useful to help frame a discussion on controversial issues because they invite students to share their opinions about an issue. The methods expose students to the diversity of viewpoints on the topic and provide students an opportunity to express positions on controversial issues, and to practice communication skills. They are good initial activities to assess student knowledge before a lesson and can also be useful to assess student understanding after a lesson. Because the methods involve physical movement of students, they often motivate students who are normally quiet in class to speak out. 

Procedures

Fair/unfair and continuum

  1. Before the class begins, select a controversial issue that has two or more legitimate, opposing viewpoints for which there is no correct answer. Then, compose a question or statement that gets to the heart of the issue. For instance, if the subject of class is the Equal Protection Clause or Brown v. Board of Education, you may want to pose the question, “Does treating people equally mean treating them the same?” In a lesson about employment law, you might post a hypothetical situation such as “Alex got a tattoo over the weekend. When he returned to work, his supervisor said she did not like the tattoo and fired him. Is this fair?”  
  2. If the question requires a yes or no answer, post signs at opposite ends of the classroom with each of these responses. If a statement is posed to students, place signs at opposite ends of the classroom with the words “agree” and “disagree” on them. You could also use signs for “fair” and “unfair,” or signs that express a range of views such as strongly agree, agree, disagree, and strongly disagree.
  3. When class begins, describe the activity in a general way. Post and discuss rules for the activity. You may ask students to help you create rules or may use these basic ground rules:
  4. Begin the activity by writing or showing the question or statement where all can see it. Give students a minute to think about their answer and compelling reasons for their position.
  5. Ask the students to stand up and move to the sign that most clearly describes their position, or a spot in between the signs if their opinion falls somewhere in between. (In the example above, someone might be standing in the middle, towards the “Fair” end, if they believe that it was fair as long as a no-tattoo policy had been outlined in Alex’s company handbook.)
  6. Call on a few students to state their position and to explain their reasons. Call on students from different areas along the continuum.
  7. Ask if there are students who have changed their minds and would like to move. They must give their reasons for moving.
  8. Ask students to state the most compelling reason they heard from people who hold opposing views.
  9. You may wish to extend the activity changing the wording to reflect a nuance of the question or hypothetical situation. Another alternative is to introduce factual material that may sway students’ positions on the issues, asking students to reposition themselves along the continuum after each fact is unveiled. You might ask students to consider the consequences of their decision such as: “If we allow employers to fire everyone with a tattoo, what could happen as a result?”; “If we treat everyone exactly the same, what could be the intentional or unintentional results?” You might also conclude by asking students to identify what the law says rather than their opinions.

Take a Stand

There are some public policy questions or issues for which people have to decide yes or no and the middle ground is not an option. For example, if people are voting on a ballot measure, there is no maybe or sometimes on the ballot. To give students practice at reaching these types of answers, you may want to drop the continuum and simply offer the options of yes or no. Some civic educators call this method "Take a Stand."