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Discuss the Issues & Engage Students in Cooperative Learning

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/17/2012

Ditch the boring current events assignments and try this cooperative learning activity instead. You'll be glad you did.

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    What do you get when you cross a standard cooperative learning lesson plan with current events? The best darn cooperative learning activity a teacher could want. It's so good, in fact, it can be used for relevant issues schoolwide, citywide, statewide, nationwide, or worldwide.

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    Transform students into focus groups (4 per group). Each group will discuss a topic relevant to the class. Each member tries to understand the stance of other members of the group without resorting to name-calling, hair-pulling, wedgie-giving, or race-bating.

    Groups are graded for cooperation, respect, staying on task, assertiveness, a mutual effort to understand one another, and the ability not to drive the teacher crazy with really stupid questions.

    Group work counts as 20% of the grade. Each student writes a position paper that theoretically includes the following:

    • A clear, brief statement of his or her stance on the topic (Use this great lesson on thesis statements if you assign a multi-paragraph essay, or this one on writing a topic sentence if you assign a paragraph.)
    • A specific comparison of his or her stance on the topic, contrasted with another group member's stance on the topic
    • A brief, clear, simple format

    Additional strategies include:

    • Prepare a discussion format as a whole class activity.
    • Give examples as possible topics.
    • Give examples of a position paper.
    • Allow alternatives to writing a paper (a speech, or a paragraph challenge, for example)
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    Quality Checklist

    • Have we shown cooperation, respect, and a mutual effort to understand other students in the group?
    • Have we clearly, briefly, and precisely identified our own stance on the topic?
    • Have I clearly, briefly, and precisely identified my stance on the topic?
    • Did I specifically compare my own stance on the topic to other members of the group?
    • Have I used correct grammar and mechanics?
    • Have I made my format neat and orderly, complete and accurate, and organized?
    • Have I demonstrated that I understand the topic clearly and have addressed opposing views?
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    This activity works great to not only help students clarify their thoughts and develop critical thinking skills, but it is also provides a structured way for kids to talk about issues that may be impacting a majority of students in the classroom. From national disasters to economic troubles to nationwide elections to school budget cuts, there is always something happening that students may not know how to discuss. By providing an open platform for dialog, while teaching them how to cooperate with and respect each other, you will be helping your students develop a valuable life skill.

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