Barometer: Taking a Stand on Controversial Issues (UK) Teaching Strategy | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History & Ourselves
Students discussing in pairs facing each other
Teaching Strategy

Barometer: Taking a Stand on Controversial Issues (UK)

Structure an active class discussion in which students express their opinions by standing along a continuum.

Published:

This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

At a Glance

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Teaching Strategy

Language

English — UK
Also available in:
English — US

Overview

Teaching Strategies

Designed to support History, Citizenship, PSHE, RS and English, this resource offers a variety of classroom strategies to develop critical thinking and communication skills, model democracy in the classroom, and empower students to become active, responsible citizens.

About This Teaching Strategy

The Barometer teaching strategy creates active class discussion: it helps students express their opinions by asking them to line up based on their position on an issue. It is especially useful when you want to discuss a subject about which students have a wide range of opinions.

As a Barometer activity gets many arguments out on the table, it can be an effective exercise before students begin to structure an essay or assignment.

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Procedure

Procedure

Identify a space in the classroom where students can stand in a line or a U-shape. Place Strongly Agree and Strongly Disagree signs at opposite ends of a continuum in your room. Alternatively, you can post any statement at one end and its opposite at the other end of the line.

Set a contract for this activity. Since it deals with students literally putting themselves and their opinions on the line, it has the potential to promote outbursts that result from some individuals not understanding how classmates can hold whatever opinion they hold. Reiterate your class rules about respect for the opinions and voices of others, and call for students to be honest but not insulting. Outline ways to constructively disagree with one another, and request that when students offer their opinion or a defence of their position, they speak using “I” language rather than the more accusatory “you”.

Give students a few minutes to reflect on a prompt or prompts that call for agreement or disagreement with a particular statement. You might have students respond to the prompt(s) in their journals.

Ask students to stand on the spot along the line that represents their opinion, telling them that if they stand at either extreme, they are absolute in their agreement or disagreement. They may stand anywhere between the two extremes, depending on how much they do or do not agree with the statement.

Once students have lined themselves up, ask them in turn to explain why they have chosen to stand where they are standing. Encourage students to refer to evidence and examples when defending their position. It is probably best to alternate from one end to the middle to the other end, rather than allowing too many voices from one stance to dominate. After about three or four points of view are heard, ask if anyone wishes to move. Encourage students to keep an open mind; they are allowed to move if someone presents an argument that alters where they want to stand on the line. Continue the activity until you think that most or all voices have been heard, making sure that no one person dominates

There are many ways you can debrief this exercise. You can have students reflect in their journals about how the activity changed or reinforced their original opinion. Or you can chart the main for and against arguments on the board as a whole-class activity.

Variations

Read a statement aloud. Rather than have a continuum for agreement, ask students to make a decision about whether they “agree” with the statement, “do not agree”, or “are unsure”. If students agree with the statement, instruct them to move to one side of the room. If students disagree with the statement, instruct them to move to the other side of the room. Designate a place for students to stand near the middle if they are undecided or unsure. Ask students to explain why they are standing where they are standing. If, after hearing another student’s position, a student would like to move across the room, allow for this movement.

Draw a line on the board. Ask students to place a sticky note on the point that represents their opinion. Then have students discuss what they notice about the collection of notes. This variation is less about individuals explaining their point of view than about illustrating the range of agreement or disagreement in the group.

The Barometer strategy can be used to present the different perspectives of historical figures, schools of thought, or literary characters. Give students different figures or perspectives to represent. Allow them to research the ideas of this person or group in relation to the question/s being studied. When you frame the statement, ask students to stand along the line at a position that represents how their assigned individual or group would respond. For example, you could use this activity to show how different philosophers or groups might respond to the statement “Individual freedom is more important than protecting the needs of the larger community”.

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