Deliberation about important public issues with the goal of considering different perspectives and moving toward decision-making is a cornerstone of democracy. Yet everyday dialogue about civic issues is also important, especially for youth. Dialogue can provide opportunities for exploration of different views and discovery or confirmation of one’s stance on an issue.


Whether it be through formal deliberation or everyday conversation, exchanging ideas about civic issues - especially controversial issues - can often be difficult. Online spaces and social media sites arguably pose unique opportunities and challenges for civic dialogue. One of the key opportunities lies in the possibility of bringing diverse people and perspectives into conversation. Further, for youth in particular, digital and social media are go-to tools for communication. Yet, online challenges may deter youth. Among an array of concerns, the possibility of discussions turning uncivil even hateful may loom large.


In this module, we provide activities, resources, and tools to help youth consider the features of good dialogue and navigate the affordances digital and social media provide for dialogue about civic issues. The activities are organized around the following questions:


  • What are the opportunities and challenges of in-person vs. online dialogue about civic issues?    

  • What do good and not so good online discussions of civic issues look like?  

  • How can we make good online dialogue about civic issues happen?

conversation starter:



This conversation starter invites students to watch Celeste Headlee's TED talk before discussing the strategies for a successful conversation on any topic

(25 min)   >


What are the opportunities and challenges of in-person

vs. online dialogue

about civic issues?

In the following activities, youth consider how features of face-to-face and online dialogue contribute to the quality of discussions.


What do good and not so good online discussions of civic issues look like?

These activities support close looking and critical thinking about different strategies people use when they talk, and disagree, about civic issues online. Students will look closely at two different online comment threads about civic issues in order to identify and critically evaluate the different dialogue strategies used by commenters. The first thread is from YouTube and the second thread is from an educational platform called Youth Voices.


How can we make good online dialogue about civic and controversial issues?

In these activities, students explore and practice different online dialogue strategies and tools - including strategies for visible listening, connecting with others, voicing ideas, and seeking to persuade others to understand and agree with a specific perspective. Then students consider the role of online guidelines in supporting productive discussions.



This section asks students to loop back to

the broad questions that they explored in this module

as a way of reviewing what they covered

related to dialogue in the digital age.

teacher background

This section includes links to articles, blogs, videos, and further resources that informed the creation of this module and may be useful to educators who want to dig deeper.

© 2018 by the MacArthur Research Network on Youth and Participatory Politics

Students explore their identities and communities, identify civic issues that matter to them, and consider how they might use digital media for civic participation.

Students work to understand and analyze civic information online, and consider what information they

can trust.

Students navigate diverse perspectives and exchange ideas about civic issues in our inter-connected world .

Students consider how, when and to what end they can create, remix and otherwise re-purpose content that they share with others in online spaces.

Students consider a broad range of tactics and strategies for acting on civic issues.