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Discussing difficult topics in social studies

Occasionally during social studies instruction, the class discussion will cover a difficult topic. Topics can be controversial for many reasons such as political sensitivity, racial or ethnic ties, recent emotional events, regional prejudices and family preferences. Even a topic such as poverty or homelessness can be uncomfortable for teachers and students. Rather than avoid these discussions, plan ahead for them by considering these questions:

  • What might make this topic difficult to discuss?
  • What guidelines or procedures can I set up to eliminate possible problems?
  • How can I make sure that I stay calm and matter-of-fact while we talk?
  • Do I need to prepare my families ahead of time when we will be covering this topic?
  • How will I share information we discussed with the families afterward?
  • What suggestions do my colleagues have?
  • Do I need to keep my administrator informed about our discussion and possible problems?