The New York Times Room for Debate is a wonderful resource that advances critical thinking and writing. Each week they cover several topics and invite “experts” to discuss their opinions in regards to a specific area of focus. You can follow their RSS feed or their tweets. Topics range from technology to education to government.
Instead of simply pitting experts against each other these pieces help show complexity of argument. These topics are current and also of high interest to students and teachers.
Some favorites from the recent past include:
- Are Americans More Prone to A.D.H.D.?
- Single Sex Schools: Separate but Equal?
- Should the School Day Be Longer?
- Should Penn State Cancel its Season?
For each organizing question multiple voices in the form of doctors, lawyers, journalists, authors, students, parents, etc. weigh in forming a textual dialogue. These “debaters” do not shout or wildly point fingers. The thoughtfully engage in the topic based on their own experience and observations.
As a result they offer a strong foundation for helping students form their own perspectives. It would be unreasonable and too time consuming to weigh an entire class of students down with only one topic. Instead consider the following:
- Create a list of past topics from which they can choose and then organize students into small groups based on topic/question.
- Have them read, annotate, and create a list of observations.
- Discuss in small groups and/or discuss as a class.
- Have students take the role of an expert and construct their own short response to the topic.
- Ask them to defend, challenge or qualify the topic.
- Ask them to concede other points of view before beginning with their own.
- Ask that they use their own reading, observation, experience etc. to inform their writing.
This type of exercise requires them to practice argumentation, concession, critical thinking, marshalling of evidence and organization. It also requires them to read experts before “jumping” to conclusions that they cannot prove.
Tomorrow we’ll discuss how to use Room for Debate as a means by which students can respond to their peers. Here’s a preview of the debate topic: How the Future Looks from High School