Dialectic Thinking

From Community Narrations

Aims of the practice and description of participants

Dialectical thinking can help people understand issues more completely and accurately, develop more effective solutions, have more productive dialogue, improve their relationships with people with whom they disagree, and increase their emotional stability and mental health. This worksheet aims to help people learn how to use dialectical thinking to explore a range of controversial, political, or academic topics. Please feel free to use this worksheet in a flexible way based on the needs and constraints of your group. Below are some suggestions for using the worksheet.

Resources, Materials needed

Dialectic Worksheet and intructions: https://heterodoxacademy.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Dialectical-Thinking-Classroom-Activity.pdf


45-60 minutes

Step-by-step - what has to be done?

Read the first page of the sheet together as a group, this can take 15–20 minutes:
1. Try to provide a concrete example that your students might have familiarity with (e.g., a current event). Ask them for pros and cons on a current topic. You can encourage students to provide examples from their personal lives, from academic readings, movies/fiction, or political controversies. Non-political examples may be especially useful as students gradually become acquainted with the concept. Take a few minutes for questions that may arise to make sure that everyone understands the general concept. A more detailed discussion can occur after the exercise is complete.
Complete the practice exercise on page 2. If students complete this as small groups in class, it is estimated to take 15–30 minutes.
2. You can choose one topic for the entire class, or let students select different topics for different small groups. Students can pick any topic they choose for the exercise (carbon tax, amnesty for undocumented immigrants, affirmative action in university admissions, an assault weapon ban, etc.). They should feel free to select a topic that is more academic or related to your specific course. Encourage your class to select a topic that will challenge them best. The ideal topic should be difficult for students without being too controversial for them to discuss productively. This will depend on the knowledge students have of issues, their emotional maturity, their specific sensitivities, their desire to build their dialectical thinking ability, time limitations, and the interpersonal dynamics of the class.
3. We recommend this exercise be done in small groups of about 4-5 students. But, based on the size of your class and your time constraints, you can have students complete the assignment alone, together with the entire class, or as homework individually or in groups.
4. After students complete the exercise, you can ask them to share their responses with the class, or you can move to the next step.

Discuss the reflection questions. As a class this step could take up to 30–60 minutes:
1. The reflection questions are a crucial way to help students build their ability to think dialectically. It’s very important to take time to do this adequately.
2. To encourage students to share their experiences, try to foster a non-judgmental environment and verbally state that goal to the class. It may help to share some of your own emotional difficulties if you feel comfortable doing so. You can also encourage students to share any thoughts, feelings, associations, observations, or reflections they’ve had—even if they seem exaggerated, irrational, conflicting, or contrary to what they expected. This may help more students open up if they are having difficulty.
3. Strong feelings are expected. If students deny having difficulty with the exercise, encourage them to consider what other people might experience. You may even want them to consider how they can advocate for more dialectical thinking in the world.

Learning Outcomes - which skills are addressed?

Academic debate, communication and critical thinking.

How do you check the outcomes are reached?

Completed worksheet.

Further Links/Readings