War in Ukraine: How to inform your students about current events

Jan- Wolter Smit

Head of Education

The current situation in Ukraine means that, as a teacher, you will receive questions of which you may initially think: do I have enough information to discuss such a topic? A legitimate question, for which we want to help prepare you in this article.

Give room for emotion

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

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

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

Learning techniques to promote critical thinking

There are a number of techniques that 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 opinion on the matter at hand, which can be tricky as it may cloud the way they view the situation. In addition, the current generation will have no past experiences 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:

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 deeper understanding:

  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 to adapt on your own.

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 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 be able to repeat step one.

You can view and/or save a copy of this learning technique to adapt on your own.

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.

A few ground rules

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 unbridled and inappropriate comments.

Tip 3

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

Tip 4

Ask good open questions that encourage 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 have accountability to their responses.

Tip 7

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

This article describes different opportunities to encourage discussion on current events. However, these are suggestions, please make sure these techniques are suitable for your own students and classroom activities.