The purpose of town hall meetings is to provide a space for community members to share their perspective on a topic of concern. In this format, different perspectives are often shared as people from different backgrounds and experiences take the floor. This teaching strategy mimics the process of a town hall meeting by providing a structure for different perspectives on a topic to be heard. Students often come away from this experience with a greater appreciation for how our perspective can limit the facts we have at our disposal and the opinions we hold. By listening to others’ ideas, we broaden our understanding of the world in which we live.
Step One: Preparation
Select four-six readings on the same topic representing different perspectives.
Step Two: Reading in “expert” groups
Divide the class into four-six groups (depending on the number of readings) and assign each group one of the readings. Give students the opportunity to read. Some groups may prefer to read the text aloud after each student has also had the opportunity to read the text silently. Then, students discuss the reading among themselves answering questions such as: What is this reading about? What are the main ideas and facts presented? Why are these ideas relevant or important? From whose perspective is this text written? How might that influence the ideas expressed in the text? Students appoint one person in their group to summarize their reading to the class. (See the Assigning Roles teaching strategy for more ideas about other roles you might assign to help students work more independently.)
Step Three: “Town hall” discussion – Part 1: Summaries
Arrange chairs in a circle, providing one chair per group. The person assigned to summarize for each group sits in the chair. The other students then form a larger standing circle around the chairs. Make it clear that each student in the class will have an opportunity to be heard. Students can only speak when they have entered the circle and are seated. Then, each representative summarizes the reading assigned to the group. It is important that no analysis or interpretation is allowed at this point. Just the facts.
Step Four: “Town hall” discussion – Part 2: Comments and questions
After all readings have been summarized invite students seated in the circle to comment on what they have heard or to ask one of their peers a question. Students in the outer circle are then allowed to enter the conversation by "tapping" the shoulder of someone in their own group and taking their seat. The only way to enter or leave the discussion is by this process.
Step Five: Debrief
After the discussion, give students the opportunity to reflect on the following questions in their journals and/or through a class discussion:
This activity could be used with readings from Chapter One of Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior such as:
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