Lesson Plan Ideas Using ProCon.org and Tied to NCSS and NCTE/IRA Standards
Distinguishing Fact from Opinion - Give students a list of 20 different statements from ProCon.org of which some are clearly factual, some are clearly opinion, and some that are difficult to categorize. Have students mark each statement as "O" for opinion or "F" for fact. Guide a discussion with students sharing and explaining their answers. Have students consider the reasons why distinctions between fact and opinion may be problematic.
Weighing the Evidence - Examine two well-supported statements that argue the same issue from different perspectives, one pro and one con. Have students list all the relevant information and supporting evidence that would have to be provided to them before they would agree that the claim has been adequately supported.
In This Writer's Opinion - Have students write editorials or letters to the editor to be submitted to local newspapers. Students choose a controversial topic from ProCon.org and conduct research on the website to get a range of relevant facts, opinions, and perspectives. The students then write their editorials or letters using persuasive arguments with effective reasoning and evidence while anticipating criticisms of their opinions.
Select-and-Fill-in (SAFI) Concept Maps - Create hierarchical or tree-like maps starting with a ProCon.org issue and have students add their own subissues and questions as "concepts" linked together. Guide a discussion of the resulting maps and create one master map for the ProCon.org issue.
Engage Peers outside the Classroom - Have students research issues and share what they learned with other students inside the school. Examples of ways to engage peers include: writing pro and con articles to be published side-by-side for the school newspaper; preparing public address announcements; creating pamphlets for on-campus distribution; and preparing a presentation for a school assembly.
Group Discussion Web - Have students form small groups to decide their cumulative pro or con perspective on an issue. Then have a small group merge with another small group to form a larger group and cumulatively select their group's pro or con position. Repeat the process until the entire classroom has a single pro or con position.
Informal Debate with "Devil's Advocate" - Have an informal debate with students on an issue. The instructor will play "devil's advocate" by shifting from one side of the argument to the other. This may be an especially useful exercise if a significant majority of students share the same views on an issue, or if one side appears weaker. The instructor can serve as a model for good debate tactics.
Lincoln-Douglas Debate - Have student groups formulate pro or con arguments on an important issue using ProCon.org. Then have students present a written summary of their arguments and identify areas where the opposing group may find weaknesses in their arguments. Have students perform the debate.
Online Discussion - Have students discuss an issue in an online message board. Encourage students to directly respond to each other's statements. The instructor should moderate the online discussion and help move along the debate.
Role Reversal and Compromise - After students have researched a topic, place them in teams to debate a topic. Halfway through the debate, reverse the teams' roles and have them present the arguments they just debated against. Then have the teams abandon advocacy and write a compromise report to synthesize both pro and con arguments.
Writing a Letter to a Political Figure - Have students research both the pros and cons of an issue. Once they choose a position, have them write a persuasive letter to their elected representatives or a government official.