Gauging Public Opinion (Jillann Mode)

By Mariya Skurko, February 27, 2017

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Smithsonian Design Institute

Subject Area

  • Language Arts

Lesson Time

2 x 90 minute periods + time spent on research outside of school


Students need to be able to write persuasive essay’s that require them to gather information/research, synthesize, and develop a well-argued stance on a topic in a cohesive essay. This lesson is created to engage students in the design process as it involves many steps to complete the final persuasive essay. This specific lesson focuses on creating a tool to gauge public opinion for the students’ persuasive essay topic, and receiving peer feedback on the tool.

National Standards

  • “Students will be able to conduct a research project to answer a question or solve a problem; narrow or broaden inquiry when appropriate; synthesizing multiple sources on the subject, and demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation”. - CCSS Writing grade 10.
  • “Students construct and test hypotheses; collect, evaluate, and employ information from multiple primary and secondary sources; and apply it in oral and written presentations”- CCSS US History grade 10


By the end of two class sessions, students will be able to identify and choose a debatable topic, conduct research on the topic, work in groups to create the tool, and receive and give peer feedback on their tool.


  • Mini lap tops
  • Paper and pen
  • People in the community to test the tool on (ultimately)
  • Students can research using,, (with links to more information on topics)


  • Paper or other materials to create tool on
  • Large paper to create a list of debatable topics
  • Show students examples of different types of tools that gauge public opinion


  • Likert scale- is a psychometric scale commonly involved in research that employs questionnaires. It is the most widely used approach to scaling responses in survey research, such that the term is often used interchangeably with rating scale (Wikipedia)
  • Open ended questions- respondent is able to expand on their answer, responses can vary
  • Persuasive Essay- An essay that tries to persuade, or make someone agree with the writer’s point of view on a topic through research, facts, and opinion.


Background Information:

Teacher should have a discussion on what are debatable topics (e.g. legalization of marijuana, city sanctioned teen curfew). Teacher can create list as whole class discusses. Discussion should include how gauging public opinion can aide in a persuasive paper. Teacher will then explain that students need to create a tool to gauge public opinion on their debatable topic.

  1. Present the Challenge: Teacher will explain that after choosing a debatable topic and conducting research, students will ultimately write a persuasive paper on their chosen topic. For this lesson, students will be given the challenge of coming up with a way of gauging public opinion on their chosen debatable topic (e.g. legalization of marijuana, abortion, city-wide curfew for teens, etc.). For example some may design a survey that captures others (parents, teachers, community members, peers) opinion. Or some may come up with an observation tool. Teacher should encourage students to be creative! This tool’s result will aide in their persuasive paper later (if applicable) as support for their stance on their chosen topic. Teacher should explain that students need to be creative in how they gauge opinion on a topic, but that it should definitely be measurable. Students will create protocols in class answering the question, “how might we create a tool to gauge public opinion on a debatable topic”?
  2. Identify/ Investigate the Challenge:
    1. Through whole class discussion, students will identify a problem or “debatable topics”. The class will narrow it down to 3 debatable topics that students will choose from. Next, students will research information and laws using internet/articles/ newspaper, etc.(done on mini-lap tops in class). Students can research using,, (with links to more information on topics), and any resource in the school library.
    2. In a following class period, students will get in small groups (3 different groups) according to same debatable topic, and engage in the design process to collaboratively come up with different ways to gauge public opinion on their topic. After, student groups will share out their ideas.
  3. Frame/Re-frame: After Student groups share out their ideas for gauging public opinion and hear feedback, students will then decide to stick with only two tools. Then the same small groups will get back together and decide based on which tool will be better for their topic which tool they will use. Students will work in the groups to refine each tool.
  4. Generate Possible Solutions: Students will develop and refine their tools more in-depth in their small groups .
  5. Edit and Develop Ideas: Student groups will switch tools, and edit and offer feedback to each other’s’ group about their tool.
  6. Evaluate your Process and Ideas: Once students receive their feedback they will write a reflection on how the feedback helped.
  7. Implement the Solution: Students will then type their final version of the tool and distribute them first to peers in school. Their next step is to give out the tools to community members. Students will go over the collected data in small groups to see if it supports their stance or not.
  8. Articulate/Reflect on the Solution and Process: Students will reflect on the above process and verbally articulate in a class discussion the challenges they had.  Students will also reflect upon what they learned from the process and what they might do differently next time. As well as, ask themselves how can this process of problem solving can help in other applications?

Discussion Questions:

  • How can you create questions that really gauges people’s views/attitudes?
  • Think why you support a certain topic/stance, is it relevant to others?
  • What does it mean to offer feedback?
  • How can collaboration help you in creating your tool?


The last step, the reflection can be an informal assessment to see if they understood how to create a tool and how the feedback was helpful. The final typed version of the tool can serve as an assessment

Enrichment Extension Activities

  • This assignment incorporates going into the community to give out the tool.
  • This assignment can be done in conjunction with a History class, where perhaps the research and tool results can be used for a different writing assignment in History.

Teacher Reflection

  • This lesson will be used to be able to write persuasive essay. The tool will be incorporated into the persuasive essay to help them support their stance on a topic.
  • The students may need to have more practice on how to collect research on line.
  • Working collaboratively to create questions for their tool works well and having students switch tools and giving each other feedback.

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