Enabling students to understand and analyse contemporary issues in science and technology

Discussing sensitive or controversial issues

Discussion of topics where students may hold strong opposing views, or where there is the possibility of some students being hurt or offended need careful handling.

Teachers may wish to alert students in advance of a lesson if, for example, they are aware of siblings or parent with a genetic disease that may be discussed. Students could be allowed to absent themselves, or leave at any point they choose. When discussing illness, where there is a strong emphasis on risk factors within individual control, students of parents with lung cancer or heart disease can be left feeling very bad.

Learning to have these types of discussions with other people is a valuable skill, so should be encouraged. Setting ground rules before the start of the discussion will discourage possible negative outcomes. These are an extension of those suggested in Running a Class discussion and could be provided by the teacher or by the students in discussion.

  • Give people time to make their point, do not interrupt
  • Do not ridicule other people's opinions, or put them down
  • Consider the effect what you are saying may have on other people
  • Listen to and consider other people's opinions
  • Be aware that body language as well as what you say can affect others

Post the ground rules on a suitable notice board, and remind students about them from time to time.

Suggested activities
1.2 HIV discussion statements
1.6 The Gift
1.6 Genetic counselling