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Additional Teaching & Learning Strategies

Civil Discourse | Complex Instruction | Dilemmas | Essential Questions Graphic Organizers | Hypothetical Situations & Analogies | Integrated Curriculum | Learning by Doing | Mock Trial | Presentation & Examples Primary Sources | Role-Playing & Simulations | Teaching a Multi-Age Class | Technology as a Learning Tool | Testing Predictions

Civil Discourse

Controversial issues provide opportunities to promote and practice civil discourse in the classroom. Established guidelines for civil discourse help structure and neutralize students' interactions during discussions about controversial topics. The following guidelines are offered:

  • Everyone should participate and offer ideas.
  • Seek to understand before being understood.
  • Ask clarifying questions.
  • Separate yourself from your ideas.
  • Challenge ideas, but respect each other's views.

Complex Instruction

Complex instruction is a teaching method in which students work together in small groups to enhance their learning experience and to ensure full participation by every member of the group. Each student in the group is assigned one of the following roles:

  • A group facilitator who keeps the group on task
  • A harmonizer who ensures participation and civility
  • A materials manager who gathers materials needed for the group product
  • A reporter who explains the group process during the presentation
  • A resource manager who gathers any additional resources or content materials needed


Problem-based learning uses dilemmas and scenarios, either real or fictional. Used to stimulate interest, highlight conflicts, and feature abstract ideas in a more concrete setting, these devices pose a problem, such as ethnic strife, and encourage students to construct a course of action. Students learn to think critically as they question their own assumptions, their classmates' assertions, and the references they consult. The actions they propose are based on facts, evidence, and the weighing of alternatives and consequences.

Essential Questions

Essential questions are an instructional strategy teachers use to engage students and encourage in-depth study. Essential questions are often used to make connections between units of study and can lead to the integration of disciplines. They sometimes are linked to other essential questions, and can also help focus assessment efforts.

Essential questions have the following characteristics:

  • They are broad in nature.
  • They are central to the content of the unit or subject.
  • They have no single correct or obvious answer.
  • They invite higher-order thinking, including analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating.
  • They provoke student interest and allow students to draw from experience.

Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers give students a concrete, hands-on activity in which to identify and compare otherwise abstract concepts.

A graphic organizer is a visual representation of information that shows at a glance how key concepts are related. Graphic organizers illustrate the chronological order of events over time (timelines), compare and contrast (Venn diagrams), or serve as useful tools for brainstorming (concept maps). Recording information in a graphic organizer helps students focus on important points and clarify relationships. It also helps students retain what they learn.

Hypothetical Situations & Analogies

Hypothetical situations and analogies are not meant to be used as a direct representation or an oversimplification of a larger, more complex issue. Rather, they are a way to get students to identify competing claims, consider the validity of different points of view, and practice the fine art of conflict resolution.

Integrated Curriculum

An integrated curriculum can include elements of science, art, and English language arts. An integrated curriculum is more reflective of the real world, in which subjects are not always defined and categorized by separate disciplines. Integrating subjects in the classroom allows students to make natural connections between content areas without being limited by artificial boundaries. In doing so, students construct their own meaning and develop skills they will need in the workplace.

An integrated curriculum may involve one or all of the following:

  • Examining a topic from different points of view (disciplines)
  • Placing greater emphasis on projects
  • Using a variety of sources and materials in addition to the class textbook
  • Encouraging students to recognize the relationships among and between concepts
  • Using thematic units as organizing principles
  • Flexible schedules
  • Flexible student groupings

When teachers develop integrated curriculum units, they often begin with a list of major concepts and processes they expect to teach. They then endeavor to make learning meaningful by asking students a series of essential guiding questions that connect content across curricula. These questions, usually two to five per topic, reflect the individual teacher's learning outcomes and conceptual priorities.

Alternatively, teachers may begin by presenting students with a specific topic (e.g., holidays). Upon deconstructing that topic with the teacher, students will likely discover its component parts are derived from separate disciplines (e.g., social studies and science). Teachers can point out the cross-curricular connections and use the integrated curriculum as a jumping-off point for further discussions about how topics and subjects are related.

Using content and skills from a variety of subjects to enhance your curriculum not only encourages students to explore a topic from different angles; it helps reinforce what they have already learned.

Learning by Doing

Young children learn best when they have direct, hands-on experiences and when they can relate what they learn to what they already know.

Mock Trial

In the course of preparing and conducting a mock trial, students study the facts of the case, prepare opening statements, present evidence, cite relevant laws and information, examine and cross-examine witnesses, conduct redirect examination, present closing arguments, arrive at a verdict, and state the reasoning behind the decision. Students are asked to summarize the facts, reflect on their roles, relate the experience to other course content and broader issues, and compare the reenactment to the real trial.

Presentation & Examples

Presentations, also called direct instruction, can be used to introduce new topics, build background knowledge about an unfamiliar topic, orient students to complete an activity, or review content. When presenting information, teachers can organize their presentations into a logical sequence, ask a variety of types of questions, use rich examples such as metaphors and analogies that link to the lives of students, and respond to students' questions and comments.

Examples can help students link new learning with what they already know. Teachers can recall personal experiences or use analogies, metaphors, and similes to help students create vivid pictures of what they are learning, clarify complex topics, or think about content in unique and memorable ways.

Primary Sources

Students can work together to organize and translate primary sources. Students work in small groups to find information related to categories supplied by the teacher. Working together helps students decode the often archaic language in primary sources, discover the multiple, sometimes changing meanings of words, and in the process, improve their reading comprehension skills.

Role-Playing & Simulations

Interactive teaching strategies like role playing and simulations work best when they're presented spontaneously to students. Effective use of role playing, however, requires preparation, a well-defined format, clearly defined goals and outcomes, and time to debrief after the simulation. Role playing and simulations require students to improvise using the information available to them. In the process, they encourage critical thinking and cooperative learning. These teaching tools can also be effective in helping students clarify attitudes and ideologies and make connections between abstract concepts and real-world events.

Teaching a Multi-Age Class

In a multi-age class, learning is promoted by taking advantage of the diversity of the learners. Units are organized thematically, and students at each grade level work on different assignments within the unit. Students are encouraged to help each other in a nurturing environment and to value differences between students of different ages and ability levels. In cooperative work, older students become role models and mentors to the younger learners.

Teachers in multi-age classrooms are encouraged to use a range of teaching and assessment strategies to address the different ages of their students, implement flexible patterns of grouping, accommodate specific learning goals, engage all students in active participation, and promote a climate of respect for oneself and others.

Technology as a Learning Tool

Technology can contribute to any learning environment. Students may use the Internet, digital cameras, and computers for editing student-produced movies, to demonstrate how technology is changing the way today's students research, organize, and present their findings. Technology provides opportunities to make a learning environment more student-centered, collaborative, multi-sensory, inquiry-based, and reflective. More important, technology is making information more accessible to students and teachers.

Testing Predictions Against Different Sources

High school students are ready and often eager to express their opinions and participate in discussions about provocative topics. Asking students to make a prediction at the beginning of a lesson can draw them into the content. Predictions are generally one of the most effective kinds of classroom "activators" because they instantly give students an investment in the outcome of the lesson. Students want to know "how they did" with their predictions. Using a variety of sources to test students' predictions enables teachers to teach history through a variety of viewpoints and helps students identify cultural biases in historical accounts.

The following sources and teaching devices are some of the many available:

  • Data cards to explain key events
  • Opinion spectrums (students line up along a continuum to illustrate the range of opinions)
  • Video clips of news footage
  • Music that reflects the political climate
  • Interviews with people who remember the war
  • Opinion poll results

In this section:
    Educational Standards

    Making Media

    Cooperative Learning

    Multiple Intelligences

    The 5 E's

>  Additional Teaching
    & Learning Strategies

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