Town Hall Meeting
The Town Hall Meeting invites all students to step into role and explore multiple perspectives in a community that is preparing to make a decision about a problem or a proposed change. The format encourages students to look at what shapes individual and collective perspective on an issue. It also reinforces the importance of civic dialogue as an essential part of citizenship within a society.
Content and character preparation:
Select a compelling problem or proposed change that needs a solution, that is shaped by a specific community or context. In this dramatic dilemma, students choose an imagined, realistic character to play that might be engaged in or have opinions about the issue being explored. To prepare, give students time to review related academic vocabulary, to research and to consider who might have an opinion about the topic being introduced, and/or develop the physical/vocal performance of their character. Sometimes it’s helpful for students to choose a name, a profession, and a specific reason they came to the town hall meeting. Choose a facilitator role to play in the meeting that is embedded in the world of the story. It can be useful to become person with a medium amount of power, but limited decision-making ability, who moderates the meeting and works to bring out multiple viewpoints on the proposed issue.
After exploring/establishing background information, introduce the topic of the meeting and the community where it is taking place. Invite students to brainstorm a list of people who might choose to attend the town hall meeting. Ask students to select a character to play; it may be useful to also decide on a profession, name, and motivation for their chosen character role. Why has this character come to the meeting? What do they want/need? Students step into role. Then, step into role as the leader of the town hall meeting who introduces the issue at hand. Within the drama, be sure to introduces key points that support opinions on all sides of the issue and pose central questions that the characters/students need to consider to make a decision. After presenting the issue, ask for opinions from individual townspeople. If it seems the group is leaning strongly in one direction, work to introduce new information that might complicate the issue further and keep multiple sides of the debate alive. Sometimes it can be productive to take a vote at the end of the meeting so that students make a final choice on where their character stands on the issue.
- What new information did we learn in the town hall meeting?
- What are the major supporting points for each side of this conflict?
- What do you think will happen next in this community?
- What sorts of factors shape community decisions?
- For this strategy, side-coaching often occurs “in role” – meaning the teacher asks questions or prompts further inquiry from inside the drama. For example:
- Let’s begin by finding out who is in the room with us today.
- Can you tell me more about that?
- Thank you for sharing your opinion; does anyone else have a different opinion?
- Math or Social Studies: Use this strategy to explore real world financial issues. For example, to explore issues around minimum wage students step into role as workers, managers and owners of a popular fast food restaurant who are struggling to decide whether or not raise minimum wage.
- Science: To explore how food waste impacts the environment and society, have students step into role as members of a community who want to figure out to deal with high levels of ethane gas from landfills and community members who lack resources for food.
- Reading/Writing or Social Studies: To explore issues around the Second World War, have students step into role as non-Jewish families in the Netherlands during Nazi Germany’s occupation of Amsterdam. In role, characters decide how and where they can help hide a Jewish family that wants to go into hiding.
Jonothan Neelands and Tony Goode