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Hypothetical Discussion

Description of Activity: Students are posed a hypothetical situation to analyze. Active communication among the group of students on all of the issues is conducted to enable everyone to see arguments more clearly and from various viewpoints. In general, the right or wrong value of the situation is in question or a need for action must be proposed.

Appropriate Content Areas: All

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Goals & Objectives:

In general, hypothetical discussions are on the upper end of Bloom's taxonomy. Students usually analyze and/or evaluate a given situation. Action verbs in objectives include appraise, synthesize, evaluate, recommend, interpret, compare, etc.


The answer to this question will vary depending on the needs of the lesson. In most cases, the students will need at least an intermediate knowledge of the materials being discussed. Such an activity is usually performed after having completed readings on a topic so that students can put that knowledge into practice, but in ethics discussions, the discussion could look at prior knowledge and beliefs.

Materials and Resources:

What needs to be prepared in advance by the teacher? - The instructor should have all discussion questions prepared ahead of time. Furthermore, a rubric for grading the activity based upon potential student answers should be developed.

What does the student need to bring to the lesson? - Complete prior readings.

Guiding Questions for this Activity:

Is there a main question being answered by the lesson? Usually, a hypothetical activity is getting students to evaluate knowledge that has been developed during a unit. The questions may be in the form, If A then what if B or why B or why not B. The questions posed serve to guide the discussion deeper into a given topic and to look at student understanding of that topic.

Activity Outline and Procedure:

  • Questions or situations are posed to the student.
  • The students then analyze the given situation. Multiple situations should be proposed, usually about 3-5 students per question.
  • Initially, answers can be private or public depending on needs. At a set time, answers are shared and open to peer review for a given time period during which further analysis into the pros and cons of each argument for a given solution, action, or analysis of the hypothetical can be provided.
  • In the end, the instructor supplies a summary with analysis of the hypothetical arguments presented by the students.

Teaching Strategies:

What are some tips to help the lesson run smoothly? A difficulty with hypothetical situations is for the teacher to wait until the students counter-post for or against an initial student analysis of the hypothetical. Instructor postings tend to squash further development in the given hypothetical discussion thread.


What accommodations may be needed for students with disabilities or other special needs? This lesson requires few if any accommodations. Most text to speech and speech to text programs can function within most asynchronous discussion tools. The bandwidth requirements are also low.


Typically, about 3 days should be provided at a minimum between the time a question is posed and the time an answer is required. Then an additional 3 days can be given for counter analysis. It is also possible for this activity to be done synchronously though, in order to get student's initial reaction to a situation rather than a well formulated answer.

Ideas for Activity Evaluation and Teacher Reflection:

How did the students like the lesson? End of semester evaluations should ask about the usefulness and learning accomplished through such activities.

How was student learning verified? An assessment should be performed on the quality of both the initial response by students, and any counter responses. Furthermore, retention of the knowledge should be tested by students ability to build on this knowledge with later units.


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