The Weekly Teaching Note

From the Cal Poly Pomona Faculty Center for Professional Development

The Value Line

Posted by weeklyteachingnote on January 27, 2009

This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Get your students out of their chairs and standing up to their opinions on controversial topics. A “value line” requires students to line up according to how strongly they agree or disagree with a statement or proposition.  You can then structure four-person discussions that include a range of viewpoints in each group.

State the issue, perhaps giving arguments for or against the proposition.

Ask students to consider the question, then to choose a number on a one-to-five scale that best describes their position on the issue.  Have the students jot down their numbers.

Ask students who have chosen “one” to stand at a designated point along the wall of the room.  The students who have chosen “two” follow them, and so forth until all students are lined up.  Stretch the line to avoid crowding.

After the students have formed a line, identify the median person.

Group students for a discussion (make sure to prepare discussion questions ahead of time). Form the first group by taking one student from each end of the line and two from the middle.  The last few groups will have less extreme differences of opinion among their members. That’s okay; just be aware of it and perhaps plan to prod those groups to explore their moderate views more carefully.

The value line is useful because it lets students see very clearly that other people both agree and disagree with them. Because the activity does result in a very public display of opinion, use it only if you feel that the class has established some trust and rapport, and establish clear ground rules for civil discussion.  Carefully monitor the discussions by sitting in with groups.

Other Applications:

  • In an online setting, students can email their “one-to-five” number to you. You can then form discussion groups for a threaded discussion based on the student responses.
  • You can use a similar line-up to identify “study buddies” or to form review or coaching sessions with students lining up based upon their confidence in their content knowledge or skill abilities.

Examples from various disciplines: Instructors could ask students to respond to the following statements:

  • The United States was justified in dropping the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki.
  • Science majors should be required to take business courses.
  • Embryonic stem cell research should receive federal funding.
  • Every woman is entitled to abortion on demand.
  • The United States should adopt a flat income tax rate.
  • Affirmative Action is a productive way to ensure diversity in the workplace.

Contributed by:

Barbara J. Millis, Director

The TEAM Center

University of Texas at San Antonio

San Antonio, TX

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