Teaching Resources

Integrating Speaking: Taking a Stand

Purpose:

 

The most valuable part of this exercise is, it seems, the articulation of multiple positions within the same side of an argument. Students are quite adept at taking opposing positions but are less practiced in differentiating a unique position from another that is in general support of the same issue. This exercise helps students to see the many and varied positions and issues that make up what seems to be a clear pro/con controversy and to think about how they might incorporate such complexity into their written assignments.

Application:

 

An in-class activity that requires that students move throughout the space of the classroom, Take a Stand introduces and reinforces argumentation strategies and can be implemented at any time in the quarter. You might use it to socialize students in the practice of critical thinking, as well as considering and responding to many different positions in an argument; later, it may be useful in helping students think through the complexity of arguments they are developing in their own written assignments.

Use or adapt the following steps:

1. Come up with a controversial statement that has two clearly defined "pro" and "con" positions (e.g. "Condoms should be freely distributed in public high schools.") Whatever statement you come up with should pertain to the subject matter of the course and should not be polarizing or subject to arguments over semantics. (It is probably a good idea to avoid the subject of abortion, and that probably goes without saying.) You can also adapt the game to engage with literary or other kinds of texts. For example, you may make a statement about a character in a literary work that elicits arguments, such as, "Melville's Bartleby is an example of Emerson's notion of self-reliance."

2. Draw an imaginary line down the center of the classroom for your students. Deliver the controversial statement and designate one wall of the classroom the "pro" position, the opposite wall, the "con" position.

3. Tell students that they must take a stand on the controversy by standing somewhere in relation to the two walls. If they strongly agree or disagree with the statement, they should stand against the appropriate wall. If they fall on one side of the controversy, but are persuaded by some of the counter-arguments, they should pick the side of the line with which they are most in agreement, but stand closer to the line. They can stand anywhere in relation to the two walls and each other but they may NOT stand on the line.

4. Tell students that they can move at any time during the game in response to positions that their classmates take. (And assure them that they will most likely be called on to explain their moving.)

5. Begin to call on students to explain the stance they took. Give them a chance to articulate their stand and then ask them for nuances: "Why are you standing three steps in front of the wall instead of up against the wall or closer to the center line?" Call on students on either side of the line as well as students within one side to encourage them to differentiate their specific position from those who stand on the same side of the line but in a slightly different position.

6. Enforce yourself as mediator; students can only speak when you have called on them. This will ensure that they listen to each other's points and can move or speak in response.

7. Continue for as long as you see fit or until everyone gets a chance to defend his or her stance.

 

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