Standard Lesson

The Pros and Cons of Discussion

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Approximately seven 60- to 90-minute sessions
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In this lesson, students use a Discussion Web to engage in meaningful discussions. Students work in groups to answer the question, "Are people equal?," analyzing all sides of the response, forming a consensus, and presenting it to the class. Students then read "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. and use supporting details to complete another Discussion Web that looks at whether people are equal in the story. Groups form a consensus, present their position to the class, and engage in class discussion. Free-writes, a persuasive essay, computer activities, and an informal class debate help students extend and apply knowledge.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

The Discussion Web:

  • Is a strategy designed to encourage all students to participate actively in class discussions and to think critically.

  • Gives students a framework for evaluating both sides of an issue or question. Students are encouraged to process opposing evidence and information before asserting viewpoints, giving them an opportunity to refine their thinking.

  • Requires students to work in groups and helps to develop cooperative learning skills.

  • Incorporates all four of the language arts (reading, writing, speaking, and listening).

  • Functions as a prereading, postreading, or prewriting strategy.

  • Helps instill in students the desire to read complex material by providing them with a framework to analyze difficult texts.

  • Develops students who are active, purposeful, and independent learners.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

  • Reflection journals

  • Overhead projector and transparency paper




1. Decide which students will work together in groups of four. Students will remain in the same groups for the entire lesson.

2. Make copies for each student of "Harrison Bergeron", the Discussion Web (these should be two-sided with the web printed on both sides of the page), the Concept of Definition Map, and each of the materials listed under "Checklist and rubrics" in the Resources section.

3. Create transparencies of the Discussion Web and Concept of Definition Map.

4. To learn more about discussion webs and concept of definition webs, visit the websites listed in the Teacher resources section. You might also refer to for background information on the author and his books.

5. Bookmark the Literary Graffiti and Literary Elements Map interactive tools on your classroom computers and take a few moments to learn how the tools operate. (If you experience difficulty, make sure that computers have the most recent version of the Shockwave and Flash plug-ins, which can be downloaded for free from the ReadWriteThink Technical Help page.)

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Develop critical thinking skills by analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing various sides of an issue to form a conclusion

  • Practice working cooperatively in groups

  • Apply specific comprehension strategies, such as activating prior knowledge, making predictions, comparing and contrasting, drawing conclusions, and examining different viewpoints

  • Practice supporting conclusions by writing a well-organized paragraph

Instruction and Activities

It is at your discretion to decide how long to spend on each activity, but a week of prereading, during reading, postreading, and writing activities is recommended with two days spent on the follow-up activities. Many of these activities can also be assigned for homework if you run out of class time.

Prereading activities

1. Using background knowledge to make predictions.
  • Distribute copies of the Discussion Web. Have students write the focusing question "Are people equal?" in the middle box and follow the directions on the handout.

  • Have students work in their preassigned groups to generate yes and no responses to the focusing question. Remind students to set aside their personal beliefs momentarily to ensure that both sides are fairly presented.

  • After analyzing the question, students may determine that people are not truly equal because of differences in gender, religion, wealth, abilities, and so on. Although hypothetically we are all born equals, in reality we are not.
2. Freewriting. Ask students to imagine what it would be like if everyone in the country were exactly the same and completely equal. Have students write in their reflection journals about their vision and make at least five predictions about this completely equitable society.

3. Discussing the author. Tell students they will read the short story "Harrison Bergeron" by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Discuss the author, other books he has written, and his writing style.

4. Discussing satire. Discuss the use of satire in other books such as The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (Signet Classics, 2002) or Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Perennial Classics, 1998). After reading, discuss how satire applies in this short story.

5. Discussing the concept of utopia. Lead a class discussion about students' prior knowledge of the word utopia. Use a transparency of the Concept of Definition Map to write students' responses on the overhead as they complete their own maps.
  • What is it? Ask students to provide a category for the word utopia (e.g., type of society).

  • Properties. Ask students what they think of when they think of utopia.

  • Comparison. Compare utopia to another type of society (e.g., democracy) and discuss how the two societies are alike and different.

  • What are some examples? Have students provide examples of other books in which a utopia is represented (e.g., The Giver by Lois Lowry, 1984 by George Orwell).
When they have completed their Concept of Definition Maps, have students write a complete definition of utopia based on the class discussion.

During reading

1. Distribute copies of "Harrison Bergeron". Have students read the first sentence: "The year was 2081, and everyone was finally equal." Discuss the first line with them, asking questions such as:
  • What does this line suggest?

  • What do you think may have happened?

  • What changes have taken place?
2. Implement the Read-Say-Question strategy:
  • In the same groups as the prereading activities, have students take turns reading two paragraphs at a time. After one person reads, the person to the reader's right asks a question or makes a comment. After that, the discussion and any questions are opened to the group.

  • The person who asked a question or made a comment becomes the next reader, and the person to that reader's right asks a question before it is opened to the group. Continue until the story is finished.

This reading strategy should generate a lot of discussion and stimulate students to question and think critically about what they are reading.

After reading

1. Working in pairs within their groups, have students define each of the following words using the context of the word as it is used in the "Harrison Bergeron": hindrance, consternation, synchronize, symmetry, philosophy, cower, immolate, and handicap. Have students write each definition in their own words and then share their definitions with the class.

Students can apply their understanding of the words by combining three of the words into a sentence. For example: "I was full of consternation because the handicap was a hindrance to my winning the game." Combining the words into a sentence requires students to have a complete understanding of the words they use.

2. Ask students to turn over the Discussion Web that they used to discuss "Are people equal?" in the first prereading activity. This time ask them to write "Are people equal in 2081?" as the focusing question in the central box. Using information from the story, each group will come up with details to support both a yes position and a no position, going back to the story as needed. There are no wrong answers. Every position is acceptable if there is support for it. Although students are working in groups, they should each fill out their own Discussion Web.

3. Each group should come to a consensus regarding the focus question. The group must look at both sides of the issue, agree on a position, and use details from the story to defend its position.

4. Have each group select one person to share its conclusion with the class. Encourage a class discussion based on the groups' varying conclusions and the support for each.

5. Students may determine that people really are not equal in 2081 because handicaps are not given out equally. The handicaps are given according to people's varying differences in intelligence, ability, beauty, and strength.

6. Have students return to their freewriting assignment from the prereading activities to determine how many of their predictions came true in Vonnegut's story. Discuss these as a class.


1. Distribute the Writing Checklist and discuss the criteria.

2. Ask students to write a personal response to the focusing question you used in the after-reading session. Encourage them to use the Discussion Web as a guide in writing a paragraph that states their conclusion to the question and defends their position.

3. Have students use the Writing Checklist to monitor their writing and to peer edit each other's work.

Follow-up activities

1. Debate. Have two students sit facing each other in the middle of a circle to debate the focusing question from "Harrison Bergeron": "Are people equal in 2081?" Both students must be ready to defend either side. One takes the pro position and the other takes the con position. After the debate (about 2 minutes each), have the class ask the debaters questions. Then two more people can come up to debate.

Note: Since this activity will require student preparation prior to the debate, it is suggested that you share the Debate Rubric with students in advance.

2. Internet activities. Have students use these online tools to further explore "Harrison Bergeron" and their personal reactions to the story.
  • Literary Graffiti
    Have students summarize the text and explain the significance of their "literary graffiti."

  • Literary Elements Map
    Students can map out the key literary elements of character, setting, conflict, and resolution.


  • Use the Discussion Web and the following websites to answer the question, "Is the society in the story "Harrison Bergeron" an example of a utopia?"

  • Encyclopedia Brittanica: Definition of Utopia

  • Utopian Philosophy
  • Use Discussion Webs with additional books. Some texts and focusing questions might include:

  • The Giver by Lois Lowry (Laurel Leaf, 2002)
    Can happiness be found in a utopian society?

  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Warner Books, 1988)
    Does race influence trial verdicts?

  • The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (Tor Books, 1990)
    Was Henry Fleming a coward for running?

  • The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe (Sagebrush, 2001)
    Is the narrator of the story sane or insane?
  • After you have used the Discussion Web as a guide for exploring and writing about the two sides of an issue, object, or idea, have students write comparison/contrast essays in which they must demonstrate their understanding of both sides.
  • Student Assessment / Reflections

  • What did I learn about equality?

  • Did I change my opinion of equality after I read "Harrison Bergeron"?

  • What can we do to improve equality and reduce discrimination?

  • How did the use of the Discussion Web help me think critically and understand the text?

  • Reflect on how your group worked together.