Conducting a Panel Discussion and Civil Conversation

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Panel Discussion and Civil Conversation activities can provide teachers and students with formats for structured discussion of controversial issues.



Students will be able to:

  • Develop arguments on controversial issues.
  • Gain insights into controversial issues.
  • Express their viewpoints on controversial issues.


You will need a copy of Handout A for each student.


A. Focus Discussion: Ask students: "What do you think were the most important issues we discussed? Why?" Hold a brief discussion.

B. Small-Group Activity: Panel Discussion

Step 1. Inform students that they are going to discuss some issues raised by Educating About Immigration.

Step 2. Divide the class into groups of five or six students. Distribute Handout A— Panel Discussion to each student. Review the handout. Give students time limits on the discussion and have them begin.

Step 3. Call time. Call on reporters from each group to tell their answers to question #1. Repeat the process for each question.




Controversial legal and policy issues, as they are discussed in the public arena, often lead to polarization, not understanding. This Civil Conversation activity offers an alternative. In this structured discussion method, under the guidance of a facilitator, participants are encouraged to engage intellectually with challenging materials, gain insight about their own point of view, and strive for a shared understanding of issues.


Students will be able to:

  • Gain a deeper understanding of a controversial issue.
  • Identify common ground among differing views.
  • Develop speaking, listening, and analytical skills.

Format Options

1. Conversations for classroom purposes should have a time limit generally ranging from 15 to 45 minutes and an additional five minutes to reflect on the effectiveness of the conversations. The reflection time is an opportunity to ask any students who have not spoken to comment on the things they have heard. Ask them who said something that gave them a new insight, that they agreed with, or disagreed with.

2. A large-group conversation requires that all students sit in a circle or, if the group is too large, pair the students so that there is an inner and outer circle with students able to move back and forth into the inner circle if they have something to add.

3. Small-group conversation can be structured either with a small group discussing in the middle of the class "fish bowl" style or simultaneously with different leaders in each group.


You will need a copy of Handout B for each student.


A. Introduction: Briefly overview the purpose and rationale of the Civil Conversation activity. Distribute copies of Handout B—Civil Conversation. Review the rules.

B. Reading Guide: The Civil Conversation can be used with a news article or other reading you select. Have students working in pairs complete the reading by following the instructions and responding to the questions in the Civil Conversation Reading Guide.

C. Conducting the Activity

Step 1. Select one of the formats and time frames from above and arrange the class accordingly.

Step 2. If selecting the large-group format, the teacher leads the discussion using the procedures from below. If using a small group format, write the following procedures on the board and review them with the class. Then select co-conversation leaders for each group.

Leader’s Instructions

  • Begin the conversation, by asking every member of the group to respond to questions 3 and 4 of the Reading Guide. Members should not just repeat what others say.
  • Then ask the entire group to respond question 5 and jot down the issues raised.
  • Continue the conversation by discussing the questions raised.

Step 3. Debrief the activity by having the class reflect on the effectiveness of the conversation. Begin by asking students to return to the Reading Guide and answer questions 6 and 7. Then ask:

• What did you learn from the Civil Conversation?

• What common ground did you find with other members of the group?

Then ask students who were not active in the conversation to comment on the things they learned or observed. Conclude the debriefing by asking all participants to suggest ways in which the conversation could be improved. If appropriate, have students add the suggestions to their list of conversation rules.

Lesson Plan 1 Lesson Handouts 1
Lesson Plan 2
Lesson Handouts 2
Lesson Plan 3
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Lesson Plan 4
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Lesson Plan 5
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