Weekly Teaching Note
Apr 03 2012
Value Lines Help Students Examine Both Sides of an Issue

A Value Line ascertains students' opinions in a quick and visual way by asking them to line up according to how strongly they agree or disagree with a statement or proposition. For example, instructors may ask students to respond to the following statements:

  • Standardized tests are the best way to screen large numbers of students for college admissions. (Behavioral Sciences; Social Sciences; Education)
  • Fracking poses no health risks whatsoever. (Engineering; Healthcare)
  • The International Monetary Fund made the correct decision when in bailing out Greece. (Economics; Finance)
  • It is not necessary to label genetically-modified foods. (Ethics; Life Sciences; Healthcare) 
  • It’s essential to answer every question a patient has, even if they are taking an excessive amount of your time. (Ethics; Healthcare)

Clear instructions reinforced by visual aids are particularly important for implementation of a Value Line because many students are unaccustomed to active learning that involves active movement.

To initiate the structure, teachers should show the students the statement plus a five point Likert scale with the endpoints labeled “strongly agree” and “strongly disagree.” They then ask students, after a moment of "think time," to choose the number that best describes their position on the issue.

Another approach might be to have students select numbers based on their proficiency or comfort level with specific topics or skills, such as preparing and giving oral presentations.

To avoid indecisiveness, it is a good idea to have the students jot down theirnumber before the next step. Instructors next ask students who have chosen "one" to stand at a designated point along the wall of the room. The students who have chosen "two" follow them, and so forth until all students are lined up. It is important to stretch the line sufficiently so that students are not bunched together in large clumps.

After the students have formed a continuous line based on their responses to the prompt, form heterogeneous groups. Here’s an easy way to do that. First, divide the number of students in the class by the number of students you want in each group. Then, have the students count off by that number, and sort themselves into groups accordingly. For example, if I have 40 students in my class andwant them to work in groups of 4, I ask them to count to 10, starting at oneend of the line, and ask the 11th student to begin again at 1. Any students coming late to class join a team as an additional member.

Pairing students of opposing viewpoints allows them to stretch their perspectives and to learn to examine at least two sides of an issue.

To follow up on any of these ideas, please contact me at fglazer@nyit.edu. This Weekly Teaching Note was adapted from a contribution to the Teaching and Learning Writing Consortium sponsored by Western Kentucky University.

Barbara Millis
Teaching and Learning Center
University of Texas at San Antonio

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