To find what’s interesting about a lesson, we can look for the controversy within a topic. Now, by controversy, I don’t mean it has to be scandalous or x-rated. I just mean something that people might disagree about. Something that is ambiguous. Something that is changing or uncertain. Something that presents a dilemma.
In many ways, I’m just talking about the Depth and Complexity prompts of ⚖️ Ethics and 👓 Multiple Perspectives.
And it’s key to realize that controversy exists in seemingly dull topics. In fact, the topics that might seem the most boring are often packed with deliciously juicy controversy!
Let’s dig in!
So, What’s Controversial About Spelling?
Look at how boring old spelling can have a bit of controversy:
- Is it better to write octopi or octopuses?
- Shouldn’t we give a word like rendezvous a sensible spelling when writing it in English? Or, is it wrong to re-spell a foreign word just to make it easier in English?
- Which is correct: color or colour? In today’s connected society, shouldn’t all English-speaking people use the same spelling for such a common word?
- Likewise, how should we pronounce ‘Z’?
- Shouldn’t we simplify the alphabet and remove redundant letters? Do we really need C? Couldn’t we do without X?
- Do the strange spellings in English make the language more beautiful or just more difficult?
- The word “choose” is spelled “chuse” in the US Constitution. Should we fix misspellings in important historic documents?
- If we can easily comprehend misspelled sentences, why is correct spelling important?
Controversy Gets Brains Sweating
Note that, in each of those cases I’m asking an “Evaluate” level question. Students have to form an opinion based on my criteria and back it up with evidence. This is spelling, and yet we don’t have to merely memorize. We can think!
More Everyday Topics With a Splash of Controversy
Ok, so maybe there’s some potential controversy in spelling, but what else?
- Calendars! So mundane. But… wait. Why are the months arranged so unevenly? And why are there 12 months? Um, why don’t weeks fit into months evenly? Why don’t weeks fit into years evenly (no, there are NOT 52 weeks in a year)? Isn’t there a better way to do this?!?
- Lines, Line Segments, and Rays. Three things to just memorize, right? That’s how I always taught it. But, if rays and lines both extend forever… are rays as long as lines? Even though lines extend to infinity in two directions? Are there bigger and smaller infinities?
- Punctuation! Ugh, so everyday, right? But, how big of a change could you cause in a sentence if you left out or changed a single punctuation mark?
- When we take a class vote and we have a clear majority, we can create controversy by asking: when shouldn’t majority rule?
- And, my favorite way to add controversy, ask kids to think from the perspective of our academic content, leading to this idea: what would divisors and dividends think about each other?
My secret goal here is to get kids so stirred up that they are discussing the topic (and hopefully arguing) on their way to recess.
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