Show me the money! Mujahedin/U.S./Soviet Controversy, 1979: Role Play Discussion and Deliberations

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SWBAT articulate contrary perspectives by participating in a role playing activity, in which they adopt a role, make their case, switch roles, and deliberate on a decision.

Big Idea

"Because suddenly Afghanistan changed forever." Understanding this line in The Kite Runner ( at the end of chapter 4) means speaking powerfully about the complex history of aggression in Afghanistan.

Why RPC, Role-Playing Controversy


Up until now, students have read memoir of life in Afghanistan (RI.9-10.1) and have also explored reading letters written by world leaders at the time (RI.9-10.6), and they have begun reading the opening chapters of The Kite Runner (RL.9-10.3).  Finally, they have researched across various informational sources to create a research presentation for the class (RI.9-10.6).  This lesson calls upon them to engage in a speaking/listening activity that asks them to integrate the sources and to argue a point based on their role--and a lot more, as you will see. 



I did my doctoral research in this area and find it to be very compelling!  Modeled after the technique of "Academic Controversy" by David and Roger Johnson, this activity guides students to adopt often polarized perspectives to hash out a complex question.  The twist, though, is that students do so in a constructive vein because I guide them to switch roles and find the truth in the opposing viewpoint.  They give a concession speech.  Finally, the whole group deliberates on a final decision on the case.  Throughout this activity, the students need to engage productively, citing evidence and effectively questioning each other (SL.9-10.1) and adapting their behavior to the norms that exist within the group (SL.9-10.1b).  This is exciting, but it is predicated on a number of complex skill sets that we have been developing all year, and that is why I recommend this activity for 3rd or 4th quarter.  Inherent in this activity is the tolerance for difference, questioning, active listening, finding evidence, etc., so ensuring a strong classroom community/climate is essential before engaging in a task like this one.


This activity calls for several groups of four students to be debating at on time.  Unlike a fishbowl, which my students have participated in before, ALL students are actively engaging in their roles at the same time.  So in my class of 28 students, this means that seven (7) arguments are going on simultaneously, so managing the physical space and anticipating a louder day in class should be expected. That said, this it TRUE engagement, as you will see the students adopt impassioned responses to the historical content, and the goal is ultimately for this work to inform our reading of The Kite Runner, which is going on concurrently.  

Situate Groups and Clarify Agenda

10 minutes

Grouping. I will have the classroom tricked out in groups of four when the students enter the room.  This will save time and make sure that I have enough time for the RPC's to take place.  If you have the luxury of a longer class period, you might experiment with grouping strategies.  As it is, I have my students in stable base groups, and these change quarterly. 

The Run-Down.   As students enter the room, I will hand out the discussion thought sheets (attached) to them and tour them through each part, explaining how the RPC will run.  I take pains not to say "debate," as this is a winner-take-all mentality which has been statistically proven not to develop as much thinking as the exchange of ideas patterned here.  I focus students on their responsibilities as speakers and listeners in each part (SL.9-10.1) as well as their need to negotiate norms of behavior that are in keeping with our classroom norms (SL.9-10.1b). 

I will ask: 

1.) What is the gist of each role?  Which will be the most difficult?

2.) During the debate, you are to take notes on the second sheet and also make eye contact with your group.  How will you manage this? 

3.) What will make a successful group, when it comes to managing controversy?

4.) What is the concession speech and the deliberation speech?  Keep in mind that for the former, you will literally get up and sit in your classmate's chair and offer a salute to the work that they did.  Why might we be doing that?  How will it help you to listen better?  To grasp the topic better? 

Argument Groups do RPC (Role-Playing Controvesy)

35 minutes

I run the class through the different components of the RPC:

1.) Introduce your point.

2.) Moderated discussion.

3.) Switch and give concession* speech.

4.) Get your heads together and do a deliberation**.

In all of these, I will be monitoring each group make sure that they adhere to the spirit of the speech or activity that they are doing.  


*A concenssion speech, as will be explained in the videos with this lesson, focuses on having students appreciate the points that their oppontents  made.  By conceding that the opponent's points were well conceived, the speaker honors others' voices and helps to establish a classroom culture of tolerance and cooperation.

**At the end of the debate, the group as a whole endeavors to solve the problem posed by the RPC.  Much like a trail room jury, the group needs to find the common ground, and finally create a consensus on what must be done.  For example, in this RPC, the group will end up deciding to fund the Mujahedin with $0, $5M, or $500M, all of which are historically significant.

Group Processing -- How did it go?

5 minutes

Often when we do cooperative learning activities, we lose focus afterward on having students be metacognitive about the social skills and interactions that they exhibited.  Here, we will take just a few minutes to firm up an understanding about how we did and to firm up our class's identity.  These types of discussions have a cumulative effect over the course of the year! 

I will ask:

What did you learn?

How did you do as a contributor?

How did you do as a listener?

How did you understand the topic differently in the RPC than if we had a class discussion or typical small groups?