War in Ukraine - How to inform your students about what they see on the news

Jan- Wolter Smit

Head of Education

The ongoing situation in Ukraine means that you will be asked questions that will make you wonder: do I have enough information to discuss this in my class? A legitimate question. We would like to help you answer it.

Make room for your students' emotion

Even though you may not be a history teacher, you are an educator. As such, you understand what your students need and how they think. This knowledge is built upon experience and on the emotional connection between student and teacher.

However, how do you engage in conversations with students about current events? As you know, while creating impactful discussions, it's important to make some room for emotion. Many questions that you may receive will be broad and blunt, such as: "Will there be a third World War?" or "Are the they coming to invade us too?"

You can help steer students by asking them to be more specific in their questions, and by providing the right counter questions: "How would you define a World War?" and "Who do you mean by they?" Even without in depth knowledge, you can turn raw emotion into critical thinking. It makes the discussion or conversation more neutral and instructive.

3 targeted learning techniques to promote critical thinking

There are a number of techniques to help you and your students create meaningful conversations about the war in Ukraine. Keep in mind that students will want to hear your own views or opinions on the matter at hand. Your opinion could cloud the way your students view the situation. In addition, the current generation has no past experience to refer to. If you do share your own experiences, we suggest to frame your stories as similar to current events, but not as definitive reference points. We say this to promote critical thinking among your students, and avoid the notion of "history repeating itself." Curious? Try out the following learning techniques:

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1. See, Think, Me, We

As indicated above, it's not about your own experience, but about the students contributing to or creating their own frames of reference. This learning technique questions how your students perceive information given to them, and how you can promote a deeper understanding of it:

  1. Zoom in on the image: what do you see?
  2. What are your initial thoughts when you see this image?
  3. How does this relate to your own experiences?
  4. How does this relate to what you've seen on the news or with those close to you?

You can view and/or save a copy of this learning technique and customise it for your lesson.

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2. What if?

This method promotes critical thinking and self-reflection as students are asked what they would do in hypothetical scenarios. You can ask students to work in groups, or on their own and ask them to review as a group later. Here's how the learning technique works:

  1. Drag the image to a quadrant and ask what would happen and why in this hypothetical scenario?
  2. Students can provide other "What if?" examples to then repeat step one.

You can view and/or save a copy of this learning technique and customise it for your lesson.

3. Red light, yellow light, green light

With this learning technique, students will learn how real-world information can be subjective or objective. Students will review a newspaper article, speech, or posts on social media. They will then have to decide whether the information is a generalisation, one-sided argument, assertion, obvious self-interest, extreme belief, or a direct opinion. Students then indicate whether it's a red light, overtly subjective, or whether it's a neutral source, a green light.

7 essential ground rules while discussing current events

We suggest a few ground rules to follow before doing this activity:

Tip 1

Promote clear and objective conversations when viewing and discussing material. For example, in regards to the current war in Ukraine, 'The Russians' is a generalisation as actions are being carried out by the Russian government and the Russian army. Therefore, using the name "Putin" could also be incorrect.

Tip 2

Have students speak only for themselves, and not on behalf of an entire group. This is to promote inclusivity, and to avoid unrestricted and inappropriate comments.

Tip 3

You don't need to know everything. However, make sure you, yourself, are prepared and remain unbiased.

Tip 4

Ask good open questions that encourage a safe discussion.

Tip 5

Initiate student self-reflection. If it were up to them, would they fight for their own country?

Tip 6

Be careful with promoting anonymity, as you want students to be accountable for their answers.

Tip 7

Most importantly, have students support opinions with facts and proper sources.

This article describes different ways to encourage discussion about current events. However, they are suggestions. Make sure these techniques are suitable for the students in your classes.