This activity helps foster comprehension and acceptance of ideas that might be counterintuitive to many learners, and is particularly helpful for weaker students. Instead of simply defending an idea through supporting evidence, refutational texts additionally name and describe common opposing views, and then explain why these views are insufficient or misinformed. Reading these refutational texts can help to convince reluctant learners of truths that may not be self-evident.
Identify the concept or idea that you believe students will have trouble accepting. Teachers often use this activity for potentially misunderstood scientific phenomena such as evolution or global warming. ELA or social studies teachers might use it to support ideas such as the continuing presence of racism in US society, the need to vaccinate children on schedule, or the benefits of universal preschool. Write or find a text that describes the topic, defends it with facts and supporting evidence, and that also identifies, explains, and then refutes common opposing views . Create a four-column chart to distribute to students. The first column should be labeled “Arguments for [the topic],” the second column should be labeled “Arguments against [the topic],” the third column should be labeled “Refutations,” and the final column should be labeled “What I think.”
- Teacher describes to students the topic of the reading, and specifically tells students that some people do not believe the scientifically accepted ideas presented in the reading.
Telling students that some people do not agree with the ideas presented helps to prime them to attend to and understand the arguments and refutations. It alerts them to the structure of the text and helps to activate their engagement.
- Students read the text alone, as a class, or in small groups.
A strategy such as Reciprocal Teaching might be useful as students process the ideas in the text, but they can read in any manner that works well in the classroom. Circulate as students are reading and confer with them about what they are thinking about the topic.
- Working either alone or in groups, students complete a four-column chart (as described above) based on the reading. They identify the main arguments and evidence for and against the concept or idea, the refutation of the arguments against, and their own o
This is a good time to confer with students and gauge their thinking about the topic.
- In small groups, students discuss their beliefs and feelings about the topic. They discuss what they thought before the activity, what they think now, and why. They identify if their thought processes have changed, and if so, how.
Confer with the groups one at a time during this step, listening to the students and gauging their thought and understanding.
- Teacher leads discussion about the topic. Students discuss what the idea is, what evidence there is to support it, and why some people might not believe it. They discuss the arguments refuting the opposing views.
At this point you will want to make sure that students understand why the scientifically proven idea is considered to be valid by the scientific community, and make sure they understand the arguments refuting opposing arguments.
- Alone or in groups, in writing or in conversation, students reflect on their learning process.
Students respond to questions including: · What did you think of this idea originally? What do you think of it now? What changed your mind? · How did reading refutations affect your thought process and beliefs? · How might you use the process of refuting arguments independently? · When else might it be useful to read refutational text?