Discussion Guidelines

Handling “Hot Topics” in the Classroom (H.S. or College-Level)

Sensitive topics can be addressed purposefully or may emerge spontaneously in a classroom or learning setting. The following are a brief set of suggested guidelines for addressing high-stakes content with students in a high school or college-level setting.

For planned discussions

  • Identify a clear purpose
  • Establish ground rules*
  • Provide a common basis for understanding
  • Create a framework to maintain focus and flow
  • Be an active facilitator
  • Summarize the discussion and gather student feedback
  • Be aware of resources available in your learning space (school/college) and/or community resources for any needed follow up or student support.

Spontaneous or unexpected discussions (When “hot topics” emerge)

  • Acknowledge the student who raised the issue or topic
  • Assess your own willingness and readiness to address the topic in that moment and to what extent
  • Keep in mind the needs of the entire class and whether an extended, whole class discussion is productive for the moment.
  • Assess whether other students want to add their views on the topic.
  • If appropriate/ time permitting, establish a basic set of ground rules for discussion*

*Note: It may be necessary (and wise) to have an already established set of ground rules, built collaboratively by teacher/facilitator and student learners. Potentially establish these during week 1 of the learning semester.

For additional information, see the full resource document “Guidelines for Discussing Difficult or High-Stakes Topics”, from the University of Michigan, Center for Research on Learning and Teaching.