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Open Sentences

Head / heart responses to controversial issues

This is an excellent tool to give students a chance to express their feelings and opinions through a "pair share." This timed activity helps connect intellectual and emotional responses to controversial issues and to develop critical thinking skills.

Ask participants to find a partner, and sit in pairs, face to face. Tap your partner on his/her knee. The first person to tap is Partner A, the other person is Partner B. Communicate the following to your students:

Let"s start with Partner A speaking and Partner B listening. I'm going to begin a sentence and leave the end blank. Partner A will repeat what I've said, and complete the sentence in his/her own words, and continue talking. There are four sentences that Partner A will complete. You'll have two minutes for each sentence. Remember to keep completing the sentence. I will let you know when the time is up.

After the allotted time, ring a bell or clap your hands. Ask the students to finish their sentence. The facilitator should decide on the time for each open sentence. Two minutes is an effective amount, and often surprising in how long it actually feels, three minutes is useful for a group that knows each other well. Be sure to time this activity. When Partner A has completed the four sentences, then Partner B will have a turn to complete each sentence again, in their own way and keep talking for two minutes, for each sentence.

Remind the students that when one person is talking, the other person should remain silent and listen as supportively/actively as they can. This is not a conversation.

Model and time each sentence for the students, repeating the sentence so the students understand exactly what they"re being asked to repeat. If it"s helpful, the educator can write each sentence on the board, after the initial instruction, to keep an element of surprise for Partner A. Then the sentences can remain on the board for Partner B. It"s important to reiterate that this is not a conversation and that listening can be very active - making eye contact with the speaker, and using supportive gestures. To set up the exercise, the educator might say: Here"s your first sentence to complete, Partner A. When I think of nuclear weapons in the world today, I think things are getting.... When I think of nuclear weapons in the world today, I think things are getting.... Please begin, Partner A. Then continue with the sentences as below.

It's useful to arrange the series of questions so that they move from the intellectual ("I think"), to the emotional ("I feel") to future action ("I would"). It is also useful to begin with gratitude ("what I love"). This can help students relax at the beginning of the exercise and connect to a sense of urgency for disarmament, because everything is threatened by the existence of nuclear weapons and often, young people know someone who has experienced small arms violence. Starting with a statement of what we love can help motivate students to create a culture of peace.

Open Sentences about Nuclear Weapons and Disarmament:

  • Some of the things I really love about being alive today are ____________.
  • When I think about nuclear weapons in the world today, I think things are getting ________.
  • When I think about nuclear weapons some of the feelings I carry around with me are ________.
  • Given that Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty requires nuclear disarmament, some of the steps that can be taken towards disarmament include _____________.

Open Sentences about Small Arms and Disarmament:

  • Some of the things I really love about being alive today are ____________.
  • When I think about the situation concerning small arms in the world today, I think things are getting ________.
  • When I think about small arms some of the feelings I carry around with me are ________.
  • Given the violence associated with small arms some of the steps that can be taken towards gun control and disarmament include _____________.

When both participants have completed the sentences, ask them to convey to their partner their appreciation for the other person's good listening. Wrap up by inviting students to share back and forth about the experience. How did they feel speaking or listening? What did they learn about their own point of view, or their partner"s point of view? Including the last sentence: what I really love about being alive today" did anything surprising come up?

After a few minutes of unstructured sharing in the pairs, reconvene the full group and ask for volunteers to share thoughts or feelings that came up for them during the exercise. The follow up discussion could be organised as a Fish Bowl to guarantee wider participation.

Adapted from Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, Coming Back to Life, New Society Publishers (© 1998).