SOS: Tug of War

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Tug of War

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SOS Big IdeaThe Tug-of-War routine was developed by researchers at Harvard’s Project Zero and builds on the basic idea of the game Tug-of-War. In this routine, students are given a dilemma or situation with two opposing sides and asked to create a sound judgment about the issue.



SOS StepsMaterials: line with two sides of an issue placed on the board, digital media resources, sticky notes, writing utensils

  1. Select a topic that could be considered from multiple perspectives, choose two opposing sides, and select a Content Collection or create a My Content folder with a variety of digital resources about the topic.
  2. Explain to students that they will be engaging in a tug-of-war conversation. In order to be prepared for the experience, they will need to use the resources to understand both sides of the issue.
  3. Allow students to work individually or in pairs to examine the content and create a T-chart with the pros and cons for each viewpoint.
  4. Divide the class into two groups to take the two sides of the issue.
  5. To represent the tug-of-war rope, draw a line in the middle of the board with opposing sides at each end. 
  6. As a class, discuss the issue with a focus on the many reasons (or tugs) towards one side or the other. Have students record each reason on a sticky note. Encourage students to use evidence from the resources to support their statements. 
  7. Have students work together to determine the strength of each reason and place it on the line: the strongest reasons should be placed closest to the side they support and the weaker reasons should be placed towards the center.
  8. If any “What if …” questions arise within the process, write each on a 
    sticky note and place them around the tug-of-war rope. 
  9. After all the sticky notes have been placed on the line, take some time to reflect on the activity as a class. Some prompts might be: What new ideas do you have about this situation? How has this activity changed your thinking?


SOS Sum It UpThis routine is great for guiding students to explore two different sides of one issue. It helps students to build reasoning skills and think critically about evidence and support.



SOS More IdeasThis routine can be used in many learning situations, such as exploring two  sides of a current event, two characters’ perspectives in literature, opposing  viewpoints of a historical event or health issue, or the merits of a new technology.


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One Comment;

  1. Tracy Simon said:

    I became inspired after reading your blog about the Tug-of-War routine developed by Harvard’s Project Zero. I teach second grade but I can imagine many great lessons I could create using this concept. In second grade, writing opinion papers is one of our standards. This routine would tie in perfectly with helping my students to form their opinions which is often difficult for second graders. I could give my students a question to explore and debate using the T- chart. For example, I could pose a question about their opinion on homework, recess, or how long their lunch time should be. The class could discuss their reasonings for each side and eventually form their opinions. This lesson would be an excellent way to introduce the topic and explore their ideas before they begin writing their paper. Thank you so much for this great idea…can’t wait to use it in my classroom!

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