How to Implement the Barometer: Taking a Stand on Controversial Issues Teaching Strategy in Your Classroom
The barometer teaching method helps learners share their opinions by lining up on a continuum based on their views on an issue. It is useful when you want to discuss a topic about which learners have a broad range of opinions. Because a barometer activity gets many contentious items out on the table, it can be an effective pre-writing exercise before essay writing.
- Prepare the Space: Find a place in the classroom where learners can line up in a U-shape. Put Strongly Agree and Strongly Disagree signs at opposing ends of a continuum in your room. Or you can post any statement at one end, and its opposite at the other end of the line.
- Contract with Learners: Set a contract for this activity. Remind students to respect the views and voices of others, and call for learners to be honest, but not insulting. Re-address ways to disagree with one another constructively, and require that when learners give their viewpoint, they speak using “I” language instead of the more accusatory “you.”
- Learners Formulate an Opinion: Give learners a few minutes to reflect on a prompt or prompts that call for agreement or disagreement with a particular statement. You may have learners respond to the prompt(s) in their journals.
- Learners Take a Stand: Ask learners to stand on the spot along the line that reflects their opinion, instructing them that if they stand at either extreme, they are conveying their agreement or disagreement. They can stand anywhere between the two extremes, which depends on how much they do or do not agree with the statement.
- Learners Explain Positions: Once learners have lined themselves up, ask them, in turn, to explain why they have chosen to stand where they are standing. Encourage learners to use evidence and examples when explaining their stance. It is best to move from one end to the middle to the other end, rather than to allow too many voices from one position to dominate. Once three or four viewpoints are heard, ask if anyone wants to move. However, they need to keep an open mind, and they are allowed to move if a classmate gives an argument that changes where they want to stand on the line.
- Debrief: Debrief by having learners reflect in their journals how the activity changed or reinforced their original opinion.
- Forced Decision – Yes, No, or Undecided: Discuss the statement with the calls. Require learners to decide whether they agree with the statement, do not agree, or are unsure about their agreement. If learners agree with the statement, instruct them to move to one side of the room. If learners disagree with the statement, teach them to move to the other side of the room. Designate a place for learners to stand near the middle if they are undecided or unsure. Have learners explain why they are standing where they are standing. If, after hearing another learner’s position, a learner would like to move to the other end of the room, let them move.
- Post-It Notes Barometer: Draw a continuum on the board. Ask learners to place a sticky note on the spot along the continuum that represents their opinion. Then have learners articulate what they notice about the bundle of notes. This alternative is about illustrating the range of agreement or disagreement in the class.
- Presenting Different Perspectives: The Barometer method can be used to present the different perspectives of historical figures, schools of thought, and literary characters. Assign learners a perspective to represent. Give them time to study the ideas of this person or group about the question being studied. When you frame a statement, ask learners to stand along the line at a position that reflects how their assigned partner or group would respond.