Discussion and Debate

Articles spark conversation

What is this lesson component or teaching method?

A discussion is any conversation involving two or more students. A discussion can occur for any length of time -- from a few minutes to an entire class period. A discussion can serve multiple purposes, such as a formative assessment to check on students’ comprehension (e.g., “Turn to your partner and discuss what we’ve learned so far about this topic.”) or a chance to formulate ideas before writing an essay. Questions should generally be open-ended in order to allow for differing opinions and multiple opportunities to share knowledge.

A debate is a type of discussion in which students take sides, state a claim, and support their claim with evidence. Debates often follow a formal structure. Debates typically take more time than other types of discussions given the need to present arguments and rebut the opposing team’s arguments.

How does Newsela fit into this lesson component or teaching method?

Newsela articles can prompt discussion in many different ways. In all cases, teachers need to be particularly aware of the importance of text evidence. Students often have strongly-held opinions that are not informed by the text, so teachers will need to constantly refocus students on the text by asking questions like “What evidence in the text supports your point?” and “Where is the text do you see that?” In most cases, discussions are stronger if students have prepared. We recommend that students use Newsela’s built-in highlighting and annotation tools to select evidence and develop arguments.

In the simplest form, students who read the same article can discuss what they learned from the article or what they think of the issue presented.

An easy way to integrate debate is when the article’s topic lends itself naturally to controversy. For example, students could choose sides on an issue like PRO/CON: Should the government pay you to buy an electric car?. Teachers could opt to follow a formal debate format (e.g., opening statements, arguments, rebuttals, closing statements) or make it more informal. Teachers could also ask students to discuss a topic that is particularly relevant to students’ lives. For example, students could read One study says it’s cooler to be uncool and discuss the question: “Is it better to be cool or uncool?”

When students read multiple articles on the same topic, they build their background knowledge to the point where they can develop quite sophisticated arguments. Teachers could use Newsela’s text sets as a starting point to identify multiple texts on the same topic and then pose an open-ended question. For example, students could read several articles on immigration from the Immigration in America text set and discuss the questions: “What does it mean to ‘be American’ or ‘act American’? Do you have to be born in the United States to identify with it?”

Students could also build knowledge through discussion by leveraging a “jigsaw” strategy. Students break into groups, and each group reads and discusses a different article about the same topic. Students then form new groups, in which there is at least one representative from each article group. These new groups discuss the issue at hand, using evidence from each of their different articles. For example, students break up into groups, and each group reads a different article about immigration. Students then form new groups, in which there is at least one student who has read each article. In these new groups, students discuss immigration using evidence from each of the articles.

A more advanced form of discussion is when students develop and pose the questions themselves, driving the discussion with little teacher guidance.

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