Secondary Secondary Religious Studies

Secondary RE – How to Debate and Evaluate

Active Learning Strategies for Debating and Evaluating

I want to encourage my students to consider different opinions and views towards a social or moral issue, but I also want them to start developing evaluation skills too. At KS4, students must demonstrate the ability to evaluate which is more than just saying what different people think. It is much more about comparing views and exploring why some reasons are better than others. The GCSE changes a couple of years ago saw a shift in the weighting of the evaluation questions in the religious studies exams, but how can we help our students to develop this skill in an interactive way?

The following are some active learning strategies that I have found useful, not only in the actual discussing and debating of a topic but in helping young people to evaluate properly.

Conscience Alley
Give the class a moral dilemma, e.g. Imagine that you are a full time parent to your 2 children. You have no money left for the week and your children are screaming and crying because they are hungry. You walk into town and see the supermarket with all of its food. Would you steal some food for your children?

The students in the class have to decide whether they would or wouldn’t, and arrange themselves into 2 lines (one line which would steal, and one line which wouldn’t), facing each other with a gap between them big enough for someone to walk down – this is conscience alley. You will need a couple of students to slowly walk down conscience alley, and listen to the reasons that the other students give to try and persuade the individuals that they should or should not ‘steal’. The students in the lines should try to be as persuasive as possible. When the students have reached the end of conscience alley they will need to make their decisions and relay these to the class, explaining which arguments persuaded them and which reasons they did not think were good enough and why.

“Stay Standing if…”
All students must stand up. The teacher will have a number of statements relating to the topic/ issue being explored that students must either agree or disagree with. These will then be said with the starter “Stay standing if… you think the death penalty should be brought back into UK law”. Students make their decisions and either stay standing or sit down. The teacher circulates the classroom asking students to give their reasons for staying standing or sitting down, and asking students to say why they think that their reason/ opinion is stronger than that of someone with the opposite opinion to them.

Value Lines
This activity can be used in a variety of different ways. I have used this when reflecting upon the impact of the Holocaust on Jewish faith; when considering what age could be considered ‘old’ when looking at ageism; and when exploring class opinions towards a social or moral issue.

Give students a dilemma or statement that they need to make a decision on e.g. If you were Jewish and had survived the Holocaust do you think that you would be a theist, agnostic or atheist? Inform students that one side of the room is one view e.g. ‘atheist’, the other side of the room is the opposite opinion e.g. theist and the centre of the room is the middle decision e.g. agnostic. Students should get themselves into a line depending on what their view is. If your statement is based on an ethical or social dilemma e.g. “Capital punishment should be reintroduced to the UK” then the value line will be ‘agree’ at one end, ‘disagree’ at the other end and undecided in the centre.

Students are encouraged to explain and argue the reasons why they have placed themselves in their position along the value line. If a student explains their reasons and this changes the opinions of others, they are entitled to move, but they must explain why they found these reasons convincing or persuasive. You can also encourage students to explain why they disagree with other’s views and reasons.

All of these activities could be carried out as an introduction to a topic or even before the completion of a practice evaluation question for GCSE religious studies, as a way of encouraging students not just to consider other views, but to actively evaluate them as well.

Teresa Langler
Head of Beliefs and Values
Clyst Vale Community College

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