Promoting Civil Discourse

Promoting Civil Discourse

Co-authored by: Michelle Leip and Kathleen Kryza

This year’s divisive political campaign has shown a serious erosion of civil discourse amongst our candidates and our citizens.  If we are going to succeed and continue to grow our great American democracy, then we are will to need to learn how to disagree respectfully and intelligently.

Gandhi says, “If we are to have real peace, we must begin with the children.”   Likewise, we at Infinite Horizons believe that if we want a citizenry skilled in the civil discourse that allows for a more peaceful nation, we must begin with our students.

Civil discourse is engagement in discourse (conversation) intended to enhance understanding. Kenneth Gergen describes civil discourse as "the language of dispassionate objectivity," and suggests that it requires respect of the other participants, such as the reader. It neither diminishes the other's moral worth, nor questions their good judgment. It avoids hostility, direct antagonism, or excessive persuasion. It requires modesty and an appreciation for the other participant's experiences.

Students can be taught the skills of civil discourse in all subject areas and at all grade levels.   Like any other vital skill, the steps to successful discourse need to be taught intentionally and transparently, with modeling and scaffolding and ample opportunities to practice. 

The simplest way of getting students started in the art of discourse is to use talk prompts to guide their thinking and responses.  Talk prompts are simple frames students can use to help them lead into a response – “I agree because” … “I disagree because…,” Whether it’s a scientific conversation, a political discussion, or a talk about the characters in a story – we need to learn to have conversations in healthy productive ways.

Some teachers will make the talk prompts into bookmarks so the students can have them on their desks as they read or discuss.  Other teachers may post them on the wall. (See photo of talk prompts posted in a classroom below.)

We’ve included a link for some tiered talk prompts to get you started and also a link to a wonderful lesson on Civil Discourse from Teach Tolerance.  (  

You will also find a video from The Teaching Channel ( of students putting these talk prompts to use in a fifth grade classroom.

We at Infinite Horizons highly value intellectual conversation based on factual information supported by reliable and valid sources.  We believe in teaching tolerance – schools should be a safe place where students can try on new ideas or opinions and receive feedback without fear or intimidation.

Democracy can only work when all of us can express our opinions without fear of retribution and without being silenced. We encourage all educators today to Teach Peace. We need it now more than ever.

Wishing all of you hard working educators happy holidays and a peaceful new year!

We’ll be back again with the next newsletter for Jan/Feb 2017. In the mean time, keep in touch with us via Twitter or Facebook. We’re always sharing helpful resources and nuggets of wisdom there! 




Some Activities/Resources to help bring the info to your classroom.

Respectful talk- encourage positive and productive discussions. (2:01)

Some meaningful, related web content.

  • Join me in Seattle for the 2017 General & Special Education Conference on Brain-Based Science, Learning & Achievement March 8-10th.  Register here.
  • Positive Student Minds:  Using Brain Science To Promote Positive Emotions, Empathy, Grit And Gratitude April 7-9, 2017 at the Crystal Gateway Marriott Hotel in Arlington, VA. Register here.
  • Meet me in one of these Queensland cities for a one day ISQ Differentiated Instruction workshop April 18 (Cairns), 20 (Ipswich), 21 (Logan) or 24 (Gympie.)  See flyer.
  • Think Smart: Using Mindsets And Metacognition For Student Success July 10-14, 2017 in
    Santa Barbara, CA.  Register here.
  • Bring Kathleen to your school!