These small-group discussions can help students grapple with tough and emotional issues.
By Alan Shapiro
With the threat of war and terrorism in the news, it can be helpful to give students a chance to express their feelings.
One way to support young people (4th grade and older) in dealing with emotionally laden and controversial issues is to start with a small group experience called a "microlab." In a microlab, people gain understanding through speaking and listening. It is not a time for discussion or dialogue; rather each person has a short time (one to three minutes depending on students' age) to speak in response to a question. When a person is speaking, the others in the group - usually only two or three others - should listen only and not interrupt.
Here's how to do a microlab in the classroom.
It's okay to pass if you need more time to think or would rather not respond.
- This is a timed activity. I will let you know when it is time to move on to the next speaker. You will each have one [or two or three] minutes to speak.
- Speak from your own point of view.
- Be your own barometer - share as much as you feel comfortable sharing.
Confidentiality is important, especially when we come back together as a large group. We need to agree that what we share among ourselves in the small group will stay private.
Possible microlab questions:
1. What do you want to say about [the issue]? What's on your mind?
2. How are you feeling?
3. What would you like to do for our community or the world to address [the issue or problem]?
(Note that the initial questions allow for expression of feelings and concerns, but that the last question focuses on the positive.)
This sharing may lead to a wider classroom discussion. If the issue is a volatile one, discussions can sometimes get heated. If you decide to open up the topic, it would be a good idea to establish some guidelines for discussion or "community practices" ahead of time.
You may want to end the session by having the students brainstorm about questions they have on the issue that would lead to gathering information and further study.
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