The Friend's Dilemma
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The Friend's Dilemma

To spark a conversation among students about the pros and cons of the community where they live, one which will reveal how people can view the same set of facts in multiple ways. To help them see that exploring multiple perspectives on a situation is a great way to gain insights and develop solutions.

Time to complete

40 minutes

What principles, ground rules, or concepts are at work here?

  1. Begin with story, not position.

  2. Explore disagreement.
  3. Build on what others say.
  4. Force Field Theory - A tool for identifying which forces are promoting the results you seek, and which are restraining them.

How to do the exercise

Begin by asking students for examples of whom they turn to for advice or information when they are struggling with a decision.  

Share this prompt with students:

A friend who lives in a different community from you sends you a text.  The friend's family is thinking of moving to your town (neighborhood).   The friend has been invited to give input into the family's decision.  "Tell me the truth," the friend says to you. "What kind of place is it?  What are the best things and the worst things about where you live?"  This is your friend; you want to help, so you're going to be totally honest, sharing what you can about your community and your school is really like.

Ask students to take 3-4 minutes to think about the prompt and jot down thoughts.  Then put them into groups of 4-6 to share what they came up with.  Have each group appoint one note-taker.   Give the small groups 15 minutes to discuss, with the assignment to create a list of at least three pros and at least three cons about your community.

Then bring the class back together.  Be prepared to post notes on the discussion or ask one student to help you.  You're looking to create one list of pros, and another list of cons.   Ask one group to share one pro or con from its list that generated either strong enthusiasm or strong disagreement.

Then ask, "Did this come up in any other group?  If it did, was there any difference in how you looked at it?"   Ask each group in turn to offer one pro or con, then ask if other groups have more to say or to add about that point. 

During this process, it could occur that what one group termed a pro another group viewed as more of a con. This is not a problem; this is useful and interesting. Note it on the written list and ask some follow-up questions to explore how this could be.

Keep up this harvesting of pros and cons for as long as new ideas are popping up, or until there are only five minutes left.

Then ask the class, "What do you notice about our list of pros and cons?" If you're not getting much response, probe with follow-ups, such as:

  • "Did we come up with more pros or cons?  What does that tell us about how feel about where we live?
  • "Was there anything said that surprised you or that you really disagreed with?"
  • "Did we have any things that were pros for one group, but cons for another?"           

Final question for the group: "What steps could we take to make any of the positives stronger? What steps could we take to make any of the cons weaker?"

Follow-up ideas

  • Ask students to pick one pro or con from the discussion and write a short essay about why it's important and what could be done to strengthen the pro or weaken the con.

  • Ask students to present the prompt to their family at home and ask their family members' opinion on the pros and cons, with the idea of giving a short report back to the class.

PA State Standards

  • CC.1.5.11–12.B - Evaluate how the speaker’s perspective, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric affect the credibility of an argument through the author’s stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone.
  • CC.1.2.8.I - Analyze two or more texts that provide conflicting information on the same topic and identify where the texts disagree on matters of fact or interpretation. (E08.B-C.3.1.2)
  • 5.2.C.B. - Analyze strategies used to resolve conflicts in society and government
  • 5.2.9.D. - Analyze citizens' roles in the political process toward the attainment of goals for individual and public good.
  • 5.2.C.D. - Evaluate and demonstrate what makes competent and responsible citizens.