I was a middle school reading teacher for a couple of years. And I liked it.
There’s just something about kids at that age that I appreciated. A certain weirdness, a certain awkwardness. I think what I liked about them most was their sense of humor. They could be all sorts of snarky and sarcastic, and I… well, let’s just say that I had my moments too.
I loved teaching reading because of the opportunities to pull in so many real-world skills: critical thinking, assessing the validity of a source, finding and using information.
And I loved giving students reasons to debate. Not the angry, offending, my-way-or-no-way kind, but a true discussion of ideas from different viewpoints.
I used the “Fact vs. Opinion” lesson model with my 7th and 8th graders especially, at least once each quarter.
Each time I’d pick a different topic, something that I knew would get their attention.
I usually started the year with the topic of school uniforms.
The “Fact vs. Opinion” lesson focuses on helping students separate their own opinion from the facts and opinions presented by the author. They had to practice putting their own judgments aside – just for a few minutes – so they could better understand what they were reading.
I used the leveled articles linked below along with some local newspaper articles.
I also found a video online from a local news station discussing a school that required uniforms. The video gave the students a chance to actually see what the uniforms looked like and to get additional facts and opinions for use in their assignment. (I used video clips as part of instruction frequently. It’s a format kids are familiar with and often presents a great opportunity to talk about how to know is a source is trustworthy. The ideal video clip is less than 3 minutes long – the point is to give them something to respond to, not to zone out in front of.)
My students started off with strong opinions about uniforms – largely, but not unanimously, against having them.
But once we started to focus on the facts, students started to see that there were benefits to having uniforms.
We’d spend two class periods reading the articles and recording facts and opinions from the article on our Fact vs. Opinion Chart (which I had them draw on blank paper. No photocopying = money and time saved, and drawing out the chart themselves – based on an example on the board – meant they were more likely to use the same format in another class or subject. They understood it better.)
We’d then spend the third day writing a summary of the facts from all of the articles, working in partners or small groups. We’d discuss discrepancies in the “facts,” compare ideas recorded (another great opportunity for multiple answers to be correct), and create a short summary, written or oral, based solely on the presented facts.
Then, before they’d burst from holding their opinions in, the students finally had a chance to share what they personally thought about the topic.
The interesting thing, though, was that the process of focusing on the facts often gave students reason to reconsider their own opinions.
One year, I had a popular football player in one class who was really vocal at first about how horrible uniforms would be. On the third day, after the reading and discussion, he shared his opinion with the class. He’d changed his mind, he said. He had decided that uniforms actually made a lot of sense. He proceeded to list several reasons why, comparing the uniform to the jersey he wore on game days. When he was done, about half the class was nodding, reconsidering their answers, with a couple students ready to counter with their own ideas.
I just sat on my desk, listening and smiling. I had made them think. Yeah!
- Students identify facts and write a fact-based summary of an article that includes or evokes strong opinions.