How do educators invest in productive, deep, and transformative dialogue in their classrooms? Civic Conversations is a collaboration between the Kennedy Institute’s civic education programming and the community-building dialogic structure practiced by Essential Partners. Explore resources, activities, and lesson structures that support educators as they facilitate difficult conversations, create inclusive learning environments, raise complex discussions, and promote a safe space for students to consider their values and engage in their communities.
Policy simulations at the Kennedy Institute reflect the wide range of issues that face our country today. Students debate the best way to reform our immigration system, consider the balance between privacy and security, and think about how to meet the challenge of climate change. As in the real Senate, it’s natural that students will disagree on the best approach to many civic issues. This collection of resources will support educators as they prepare to discuss civic issues, either in preparation for a Kennedy Institute field trip or to practice listening, sharing, and learning in the classroom.
This project was made possible through the generosity of the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and also with support from the Institute for Museum and Library Services.
Readings and Resources
These key resources provide a foundation for dialogic work.
- Start here: What is dialogue and how can it be used to build community? Stains, Robert R. “Cultivating Courageous Communities through the Practice and Power of Dialogue.” Mitchell Hamline Law Review (42:5). 2016.
- Reflect on creating an environment for dialogue: Gay, Roxane. “The Seduction of Safety, On Campus and Beyond.” New York Times. November 13, 2015.
- Why is it important to listen across difference? Adichie, Chimamanda Ngozi, “The Danger of a Single Story,” TED Talk. 2009.
Dialogue Building Classroom Activities
These activities can be incorporated into many different kinds of classroom environments to build dialogue and understanding as students discuss civic issues.
- Connecting Questions This activity help students to know each other and choose how they’d like to be known, laying the foundation for difficult conversations. This activity from Essential Partners provides step-by-step instructions and example questions to build a classroom environment primed for future dialogue.
- Step Inside This House: Exploring Student Identities, Values, and Beliefs This activity from Essential Partners encourages an exploration of the values, traditions, and objects that hold meaning for students.
- My Political Autobiography This workbook from Essential Partners is designed to prepare students for a dialogue about their political beliefs. Through a series of questions and conversation starters that encourage personal reflection, students will consider their own political history, their civic voice and how they want to use it.
Teacher-Created Lesson Plans
These lesson plans, created by educators during the 2020 Civic Conversations Summer Institute, feature preparation for dialogue, dialogic skill building and full structured dialogue experiences for the classroom. Explore how teachers infuse dialogue into their classroom.
- Who am I? Who are We? | Race, Identity, Values | Credit: Damian Aufiero
- This lesson plan encourages an exploration of how identities are forged, the impact of media, image and wealth on identity, and the role of names in individual and community identity. The lesson cumulates in a guided structured dialogue giving students the space to share their own identities and learn from each other.
- Post-Election Processing | Elections, Politics, Group Processing | Credit: Leif Jacobsen
- This lesson, developed after the 2020 Presidential Election, provides a space for students to process election outcomes with a shared set of facts. The lesson is grounded with a framing of class values, then moves to a core set of principles to frame discussion, followed by discussion questions and strategies for engagement.
- Building Beloved Community | Personal History, Identity, Literary Analysis | Credit: Sarah Koppelkam
- This lesson encourages students to reflect on their own dreams and make connections to literary texts. It features two guided structured dialogues, rubric to evaluate participation, and helpful sentence starters to encourage participation.
- Preparing for Dialogue | Dialogic Skill Building | Credit: Gabriel Avruch
- In this lesson, students focus on preparing for a dialogue. They’ll practice the critical skill of listening through a designated listener activity and reflect on their own identity as they prepare to share some of their answers in a class dialogue.
- Talk Moves | Dialogic Skill Building, Self-Evaluation | Credit: Gabriel Avruch
- These supporting resources help clarify for students what is expected of them in a guided structured dialogue. Each “Talk Move” is a sentence stem that students can put to use in a dialogue situation. A “Conversation Checklist” is provided for students to self-evaluate their own participation in the dialogue.
- Academic Experiences | Education, Identity, Trust-Building | Credit: Gabriel Avruch
- In this lesson, students prepare and participate in a dialogue as they consider their academic experiences thus far, and how they can contribute to their academic success in the future. This lesson features a role for each student and adaptations for the virtual classroom.
- Balance of Freedom and Safety | Connection to Text | Credit: Megan Agola and David Jones
- This lesson plan serves as an example of how to use dialogue to lead into argumentative essay writing. Students are introduced to a concept of freedom and safety and use a structured dialogue to consider how it applies in their own lives, sharing concrete experiences and learning from each other.
This project won the 2019 Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics (LAIC) prize, an award that carried funding for the activity. LAIC is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.
This project was also made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services.