1. Write a controversial statement on the board for all students to see.
2. Then have them write on a piece of paper whether they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the statement and why. No consulting with their neighbors on this one - just their opinion.
3. Once they have done this, have them go to corners of the room based on their reponses (in other words, all the strongly agrees to one corner, the agrees to another, etc.).
4. Give them some time to talk with others of the same feeling, to choose a spokesperson and to devise a case to present to their classmates in the interests of winning people over to their corner. In their conversation, they usually end up rereading the text for evidence, using a dictionary to look up words, and making a list of reasons why they are right.
5. Once they are ready, each spokesperson presents the group's case to the class while they listen quietly.
6. Then give them time at the end to ask questions or challenge other groups.
7. Finally, close by asking them to think about what they have heard and then move to a new corner if they were swayed by another group's presentation.
This activity really gets them involved and interested. Plus it lends itself to close reading.
Possible controversial statements for novels:
A Separate Peace, Chapter 4:
Gene is responsible for Finny's fall.
Heart of Darkness, end:
Heart of Darkness is a racist novel.
Catcher in the Rye, end:
Holden belongs in the asylum.
Great Expectations, end:
Estella redeems herself in the end.
Huck Finn, end: (same as Heart)
Huck Finn is a racist novel.
Hamlet is insane.
Gertrude feels more loyalty to Hamlet than to Claudius.
Hamlet shows his true feelings only to Horatio.
Some of Hamlet's behaviors and comments indicate that he has a sense of humor (or has sanity).
Hamlet, deep inside, loves Ophelia.
Claudius is cold and calculating with no ounce of humanity.
The Great Gatsby:
Jay Gatsby was Great.
Nick Carraway is one of the few honest people in the novel. Lord of the Flies:
"The defects in society are a result of the defects in human nature." (Golding)
Frankenstein is a novel where the humans behave like creatures and the creature behaves humanely.
Victor is the real monster in the story.
Moral boundries should exist on the acquisition of knowledge.
Thanks to Janet on AP-English Listserv for contributing this idea and compiling the controversial statements.