Difficult Dialogues

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National events can impact student learning in your classroom, regardless of the course that you teach. The best way to help students engage with challenging topics, or respond to difficult moments in the classroom, is to have a plan rooted in your own personal approach to pedagogy and the objectives for your course. The University of Delaware’s strategic plan underscores the importance of preparing students to be engaged citizens, as part of our shared vision of student success:  “We expect our students to be engaged citizens who are aware of their intellectual strengths and interests, as well as their ethical values and commitments. Our students must be adept at thinking critically, communicating effectively, working both independently and cooperatively, interpreting meaning from the world, and reasoning clearly in whatever discipline they pursue” (https://www.udel.edu/about/leadership-mission/strategic-plan/ Our objectives in preparing these resources are to help instructors:

  • Engage with students on difficult issues as they relate to the objectives of their courses
  • Empower students to make better use of campus resources outside of their classes to seek community and support
  • Develop a plan of action in response to politically or ideologically charged language, actions, or imagery
  • Increase student capacity to engage with difficult conversations by building resilience.


Reasoning Clearly: Reliable vs. Unreliable Sources


Articles and Webpages

University Libraries, University of Georgia, “Finding Reliable Sources.”– Webpage with brief information related to the questions “What is a Reliable Source,” “Who Decides a Source is Reliable?,” “Criteria for Evaluating Reliability,” “Fact-Checking Sites.”

Cornell University Library, “Fake News, Propaganda, and Misinformation: Learning to Critically Evaluate Media Sources.” Webpage with subtabs on information related to critically evaluating media sources, such as recognizing fake news, being an active news user, pause before you share (links on social media), evaluating news sources, seeing our biases, and links to additional resources.

University of California Berkeley Library, “Weeding Out BS (Bad Sources).” UC Berkeley Library provides suggestions for avoiding falling victim to BS (bad sources): considering the source of information, the information context, and how delivery platforms affect you.

Wardle, Claire. “Fake News: It’s Complicated,” First Draft News, 16 February 2017.” – Breaks down the different types of mis- and disinformation with infographics and discusses the dissemination of fake news, as well as what we can do to combat fake news.


Teaching Tips and Tools

International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA), Infographic on “How To Spot Fake News.”Infographic on how to spot fake news by the IFLA.

PEW Research Center, Quiz: How well can you tell factual from opinion statements? Quiz for students on how to tell factual statements from opinion statements.

UTEP Connect (University of Texas El Paso), “4 ways to differentiate a good source from a bad source.” Tips for differentiating “good” (reliable) vs. “bad” (unreliable) sources when writing research papers.

Tidewater Community College, “News Literacy.”Tidewater Community College’s (TCC) library sources on News Literacy, including brief information on “Reading the News,” “Detect Unreliable Sources,” “Fact Checking,” and “Trusted News Sources.”

Stony Brook Digital Resource Center: Center for News Literacy, “A Library of News Literacy Resources.”– Stony Brook’s Digital Resource Center’s resources on news literacy, including tips on how to get started with news literacy and news literacy learning modules, as well as a teacher’s guide to news literacy and links to various resources.

University of Delaware Library Research Guides, “Busting Fake News: Evaluating Online Information.” – UD Library’s research guide on evaluating online information, including information on types of fake news, evaluating data visualizations and images, red flags to look out for, and resources for instructors.

Caulfield, Michael A. Web Literacy For Student Fact-Checkers, Pressbooks. – An open source textbook on web literacy for students.


Critical Thinking


Articles and Webpages

Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching (CFT), “Difficult Dialogues”Provides specific tools and strategies, as well as a list of additional print and online resources. Suggestions include trying to connect difficult topics with the course’s subject matter, monitoring yourself and your own reactions, and using “The Critical Incident Questionnaire.”

Murray-Johnson, Kayon. “(En)Gauging Self: Toward a Practical Framework for Race Talk.” Adult Learning, vol. 30, no. 1, Feb. 2019, pp. 4–14. EBSCOhost, Education Source. – Murray-Johnson underscores the need for emotive capacity in educators who engage in conversations (in their classrooms) about race and racism. Provides 8 elements with which to engage in such conversations: self-awareness, sanctuary, sensitivity, solid relationships, speech, seperation, shedding, and sacrifice.

Hess, Diana, and Lauren Gatti. “Putting Politics Where It Belongs: In the Classroom.” New Directions for Higher Education, no. 152, Jan. 2010, pp. 19–26. EBSCOhost. ERIC. – Hess and Gatti assert that politics should not be shied away from in the college classroom. In fact, they have an important place there.

Marchel, Carol A. “Learning to Talk/Talking to Learn: Teaching Critical Dialogue,” Teaching Educational Psychology, Vol. 2.1, Spring 2007, pp. 1-15. – Marchel discusses the importance of teaching and cultivating critical dialogue in the classroom.

Gayle, Barbara Mae, Dr.; Cortez, Derek; and Preiss, Raymond W. “Safe Spaces, Difficult Dialogues, and Critical Thinking,” International Journal for the Scholarship and Teaching of Learning (ijSOTL), Vol. 7, No. 2, Article 5, 2013, pp. 1-8. – Article on creating safe spaces to foster difficult dialogues and critical thinking in the classroom.


Teaching Tips and Tools

University of Michigan CRLT, “Making the Most of Hot Moments In The Classroom” HandoutUseful handout for addressing “hot moments” in the classroom when they arise.

Campus Compact: Minnesota, “Cultivating Critical Thinking In Difficult Discussion.”Tips and strategies for engaging students in difficult discussions in the classroom.

Billington Library. “Teaching Critical Thinking: So What Can I Do in My Classroom?”Provides teaching strategies on how to teach critical thinking in the classroom.

DuPaul University, Teaching Commons. “Designing Assignments for Critical Thinking.”DuPaul University’s Teaching Commons provides resources on designing assignments for critical thinking. There are also links to handouts on teaching critical thinking that focus on definitions of critical thinking, argument mapping, creating cognitive dissonance, scaffolding assignments, teaching for transfer, and other resources on critical thinking.

Brown University, The Harriet W. Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning. “Questions to Provoke Critical Thinking.”Includes a table that is organized “to help formulate questions provoking gradually higher levels of thinking.”


Working Cooperatively and Building Trust


Articles and Webpages

Johnson, David W. & Johnson, Roger T. “What is Cooperative Learning?”, Cooperative Learning Institute, Newsletter, Updated April 2018. – Johnson and Johnson discuss what cooperative learning is and how it can be used effectively in the classroom. They offer tips and strategies about different types of cooperative learning, such as formal cooperative learning and information cooperative learning.

Bias, Gene & Kolk, Melinda. “Enhance Learning with Collaboration,” Creative Educator. – Bias and Kolk discuss the difficulties in and advantages of working in teams, as well as the differences between cooperative and collaborative learning.

Vrinda, Varia and Brooks, Jordan. “Reframing Resiliency,” Inside Higher Ed. – Vrinda and Brooks discuss the importance of moving beyond only responding to events in the moment and better preparing and engaging with students and the community on how to respond to such events in the long term and to effect change.

Jones, Karria A. & Jones, Jennifer L. “Making Cooperative Learning Work in the College Classroom: An Application of the ‘Five Pillars’ of Cooperative Learning to Post-Secondary Instruction,” The Journal of EffectiveTeaching (JET), Vol. 8, No. 2, 2008, pp 61-76. – A case study on cooperative learning in a graduate level multicultural education course.

Ramsdell, Dustin. “Building Trust to Increase College Student Engagement,” Presence, 3 March 2017. –  The key question Ramsdell asks is “how do we foster more social trust between our students [college students]?” To be trustworthy is to be competent, reliable, and honest. In order to build trust with students. He asserts that we must be all 3 of these things.


Teaching Tips and Tools

Clifford, Miriam. “Facilitating Collaborative Learning: 20 Things You Need to Know From the Pros,” informED, 8 November 2012. – The main question Clifford asks is: what are some ways to include best practices for collaborative learning in our classroom? She then provides a list of 20 tips on how to do this.

University of Wisconsin Whitewater – “Higher Order Reflection.”Provides tips on how to promote and cultivate a safe, engaging classroom environment where students can have their preconceptions challenged.

Washington University in St. Louis, The Teaching Center – “Facilitating Challenging Conversations in the Classroom.”Strategies on how to facilitate challenging conversations in the college classroom using inclusive teaching practices.

University of Michigan CRLT – “Teaching and Learning in a Tense Election Season.”Related to the 2016 election, but still relevant for the 2020 election. Tips on how to engage with and support students in a volatile election climate inside and outside the classroom.

Cornell University, Center for Teaching Innovation. “Connecting with Your Students.”“When instructors connect with their students, they build rapport in the classroom and foster student engagement in the learning process.”



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