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4 sites that support argumentative literacy, debates, and controversial topics

1960 presidential debate

Next week, I’ll be spending time with a group of teachers as we discuss ways to support reading and writing in the social studies. Specifically, strategies for creating formative feedback opportunities that support argumentative and persuasive writing.

And what better way than by using contemporary issues tied to historical events?

A middle school teacher might use the exodus of unemployed from Detroit between 2008 and 2015 as a way to talk about why families moved to the American West during the mid to late 1800s. A high school teacher might use the Nuremberg Laws in 1930s Germany to highlight current immigration conversations. Perhaps a teacher might use laws such as the Kansas Act of 1940 and the House Concurrent Resolution 108 of 1953 to guide student thinking into 21st century discussions on race in the US and around the world.

But it’s always nice to have a little help. So plan to check out these four sites that provide resources and ideas that can help you as you delve into contemporary issues.

I’ve heard some who suggest that using contemporary, and possible controversial, issues is not worth our time and effort or that their administrators have asked them not to discuss certain topics. Head over here for some useful data that highlights why we as social studies teachers need to be doing this sort of teaching.

Then read these two articles that provide some teaching tips. The first is from the North Carolina Digital History folks, the second from Teaching History.


Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 6.39.45 PMStart with ISideWith, a nonpartisan site that lets you and students explore a range of political views. Graphite describes its main feature as a political quiz that lets users weigh in on a range of issues and then see how their views align with those of various political parties. In addition to the quiz, there’s an extensive collection of resources about political issues that range from news stories and heat maps to discussion threads. You can create your own maps for many different current issues and display data in a variety of ways.

politifact meter

PolitiFact is a fact-checking website that rates the accuracy of claims by elected officials and others who speak up in American politics. PolitiFact is run by editors and reporters from the Tampa Bay Times, an independent newspaper in Florida, as is PunditFact, a site devoted to fact-checking pundits. (The PolitiFact state sites are run by news organizations that have partnered with the Times. The state sites and PunditFact follow the same principles as the national site.)

PolitiFact staffers research statements and rate their accuracy on the Truth-O-Meter, from True to False. The most ridiculous falsehoods get the lowest rating, Pants on Fire. PolitiFact checks claims by elected officials, candidates, leaders of political parties and political activists. They examine officials at all levels of government, from county commissioners to U.S. senators, from city council members to the president. Along with the ratings, there are timely articles that cover key political topics both domestic and abroad.

ProCon_logo is a nonpartisan website that provides well-sourced pro, con, and related research on more than 50 controversial issues, from gun control and death penalty to illegal immigration and alternative energy. With more than 12,000 pages of highly curated, referenced content, provides a platform for people to question information, evaluate opposing views, and debate them in a respectful way.

Its primary goal is to promote critical thinking and educate citizens so they can make informed decisions about important issues. In addition to the extensive content, there is a Teacher’s Corner that includes Common Core-aligned lesson plans and other suggestions for how to use the site to teach standards and develop critical-thinking skills.

factcheck logoFactCheck is a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters that aims to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. They monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. Their goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding. is a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania.

Bonus site!

Screen Shot 2015-12-11 at 7.05.25 PMRealClearPolitics is the trusted, non-partisan, site in a content-rich media environment, “thoughtfully curating the best coverage from every angle of the day’s most critical issues.” As a destination for elected officials, opinion leaders and engaged citizens, RealClearPolitics curates a huge amount of information in multiple topics. (Including a section on history.)

All of these sites provide you and your students a variety of resources to help practice persuasive and argumentative writing.

Have fun!



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