Kids are inundated with information slanted to one side or another of an issue all the time. Political ads. Watch this, not that. All the cool kids buy/play/wear/eat/root for….
At an early age, students need to recognize the one-sidedness of the many arguments they encounter each day. Asking questions about contradictory information helps them become literate, thoughtful citizens as adults. In this lesson, students practice drawing from both sides of an issue to create a deeper understanding. I decide to engage student interest with an article that touches on a topic everyone is sure to have an opinion on: cell phone use in schools.
Ahead of time, I decide how students will be paired. For the first part of the lesson, students will work with a “shoulder partner” (someone seated beside them) and for the second part of the lesson, they will work with a “face” partner (someone seated behind or in front of them). Once that is done, introduce the topic of cell phone use in the classroom. To get started, students work with their face partner to brainstorm reasons for banning cell phone use in the classroom by making a T-Chart and listing at least four reasons and by providing at least one example for each. Check in with students along the way and then conduct a whole class discussion pooling information from each set of partners. Reason #1 was cheating. Although I suspected it would be high on the list, it was still disconcerting to hear their detailed examples! They also readily acknowledged the distractions of social networking, surfing the internet, and playing games. A sample of the class list appears here.
Next, the students work independently to read and annotate an article about a school that allows students to use cell phones during instruction. Hand out copies of “Ocean Springs School Allows Students to Use Cell Phones in Class” by Trang Pham-Bui and allow time for students to complete the task.
When done they once again work with “face” partners to create a T-chart with reasons why some schools make this decision. Even though the partners only need to produce one T-chart, each student is expected to contribute details. While the students work, I circulate around the room and check in with each group by clarifying the directions and answering questions. One thing I found helpful was to remind students that along with information from the article, the chart can include their own knowledge, just as we did when we looked at the other side of the issue. As their work winds down, create a class chart from their combined ideas. An example of a chart appears here.
Now it is time for students to work with their “shoulder” partners to get some practice debating an issue. To do so, assign each partner a number: the person the right is a ‘one’ and the person on the left is a ‘two.’ Tell the ‘ones’ that they will now have one minute to argue in favor of banning cell phone use in school and the ‘twos’ must listen without interrupting. Then, the ‘twos’ have an opportunity to argue in favor of cell phone use in school while the ‘ones’ just listen. Now, these same partners are to drop their advocacy for one side or another and work together to come up with a solution that both students and teachers can live with. Some thoughts on changing the rules for the debate appear here: