Fostering Civil Discourse: A Guide to Classroom Conversations


How can you create a safe and reflective classroom where students learn to exchange ideas and listen respectfully to each other? What strategies are most effective in helping students practice constructive civil discourse? How can educators create a place where students can exchange ideas, listen to different points of view, try out ideas, and give – and receive – feedback without fear or intimidation?

Fostering Civil Discourse: A Guide for Classroom Conversations” covers how to create an environment that supports difficult conversations. You’ll learn to do this through trust and openness, setting ground rules of respect, providing opportunities for reflection, and establishing safe spaces for students to discuss sensitive topics. The guide also provides tips on effective teaching strategies for facilitating conversations on difficult topics.

What You’ll Learn

“A Guide for Classroom Conversations” includes tools such as:

  • Start with Yourself
  • Develop a Reflective Classroom Community
  • Create a Classroom Contract
  • Provide Opportunities for Student Reflection
  • Establish a Safe Space for Sensitive Topics
  • Implement Effective Teaching Strategies

Teaching Strategies

The following strategies can be effective in facilitating conversations about sensitive topics. These strategies create a safe space for multiple points of view and encourage active listening.

  • Big Paper: Building a Silent Conversation
  • Save the Last Word for Me
  • Barometer: Taking a Stand on Controversial Issues
  • Four Corners Debate

Additional Information

For more educational resources on engaging students in examinations of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism, visit the Facing History and Ourselves website. Visit the On-Demand Learning Center where you can take a variety of offerings based on your time and interest that are classroom videos, on-demand webinars, and self-paced workshops.


  • Do you find yourself having to address difficult topics? What techniques do you use to facilitate those conversations?
  • Which strategies addressed in the guide would be useful for you in leading a discussion about sensitive subjects?

Write a Review

  1. Fostering Civil Discourse: A Guide to Classroom Conversations is a great resource. I felt that the guidelines could be used while facilitating a discussion in any setting. And, as the article states, in a country that seems to becoming more polarized every day, having these tips in your back pocket may be helpful during a lunchtime chat, a family gathering, or during a program.

    I appreciated the idea of making a classroom contract and involving students in the process. Student involvement seems like it would help the discussion leader measure the comfort, worries, and desires of the group. While the article focuses on discussing sensitive topics, the contract could easily be used to make any conversation fairer (such as sharing talking time, listening with respect, saying thank you, etc). They could be written on a portable white board or simply discussed before the talk starts.

    The suggested teaching strategies in the article contained some great ideas. Primarily an outdoor educator, I felt that the “Barometer” exercise could be functional in a variety of settings (not just a classroom) and discussions. It also allows for students to stand up and move around, accommodating different learning styles/multiple intelligences.

    A statement that hit home for me: “… it is important to point out then things cross the line in order to create a safe community where you will expect and maintain a level of kindness and decency from all students.” Stepping in to a conversation to facilitate the ongoing, constructive conversation is prudent and of utmost importance. Otherwise, the conversation may turn into personal insults or attacks on the person making a statement rather than debating their argument in a functional way.


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