Content Literacy 101

Discussion Continuum (From "A Handbook of Content Literacy Strategies")

 "The discussion continuum provides a structures format for whole class discussion of a topic. It is particularly useful during the utilizing [post-reading] component of the instructional framework, when the teacher is attempting to have students apply their knowledge to a particular situation."

Basically, a discussion continuum consists of controversial statement placed at each end of a line on the board. For example, for a U.S. history class on WWII, one end could say, "The United States was justified on dropping the atomic bomb on Japan," while the other end could say, "The United States was not justified in dropping the atomic bomb on Japan." 
Students then place their initials on the line where their opinion falls (or, if the board is big enough, stand in the corresponding position). This then leads to a class discussion.

Why use it?
Adolescents typically love the opportunity to take a stand on an issue. Most students have strong opinions at this point in their lives, and like to see what opinions they share with their peers. By forcing students make a choice, a lively class discussion/debate can be started based on their justifications. This strategy also helps students see how to apply what they learned from their reading.

How do I use it?
  • "The most efficient way to teach the discussion continuum is to use it with the whole class, with a high-interest topic for which students hold a wide range of positions. The teacher should emphasize that everyone must respond at least once, that all positions will be listened to respectfully, and that after everyone has spoken, students may change their positions on the continuum and then speak again. 
  • Initially, the teacher may want to structure the discussion so that students representing views at opposite ends of the continuum alternate speaking. Generally, once students get involved, they take over the discussion themselves and soon are responding to each other rather than using the teacher as the person who must keep the discussion going.
  • To ensure that students apply the knowledge they have been learning to the issue on the discussion continuum, provide the students with the issue several days in advance of the class discussion. Have them prepare support for their position from the sources they've been studying, using note cards or data charts."

  • "The discussion continuum can serve as an effective springboard for writing where students explain several different positions on an issue or try to persuade readers to take a certain position.
  • Once students understand how to use the discussion continuum, they can develop their own issues in small groups.
  • Some teachers use the discussion continuum first as an initiating [pre-reading] strategy before the students have studied a particular topic, and then again, afterward, to help them see how information can help us to make more informed decisions." 

(Steps and Tips from: A Handbook of Content Literacy Strategies by Stephens and Brown)