Telecommuting: A Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Activity Description: 

“A Point/Counterpoint debate on the advantages and disadvantages of telecommuting, with the purpose of having students consider the perspective of employees and employers.”

To access this resource:

Activity Source: 

Kossek, E. E. (n.d.). Telecommuting: A suggested work and family class activity. Retrieved from

Hot Topic Debates: A Class Activity and Assignment

Activity Description: 

Author: Jodie Hertzog, Wichita State University
Purpose (From Author):
I regularly teach a general education Marriage & Families course that enrolls between 25 (summer sessions) and 75 students (regular term). In order to engage students in exploring current issues related to family life, I started including a “hot topics” assignment that has evolved from being a pure writing assignment to including an actual in-class debate presented by small groups. The assignment fulfills several course objectives, providing students an opportunity to (1) demonstrate their understanding of class concepts and readings, (2) become more aware of their own and other’s attitudes and values, (3) practice discussing controversial issues in a respectful manner, and (4) expand their critical thinking skills.
In my experience, students enrolled in introductory Marriage and Families courses sometimes struggle in learning to move past their experiential reality of family life to adopt sociological perspectives on families. I have found that integrating “hot topic” debates into the curriculum is a useful method for engaging students in this process. According to Bellon (2000), using debate as an active learning activity in the college classroom can encourage students to gain increased awareness of current social issues, to develop better communication skills, and to practice critical thinking. Goodwin’s (2003) evaluation of classroom debates further suggests that debates can aid in the collaborative learning process and assist students in considering a range of views on complex topics.
Toward the beginning of the semester, students are given the opportunity to sign up for a debate topic that interests them. Since this assignment was originally used in a Marriage and Families course, debate topics have included legalizing same-sex marriage, should mothers work outside the home, effects of child care on children, to spank or not, are cyber-affairs cheating, and should the U.S. bring back no-fault divorce, to name a few. The number of topics available and the number of spots per group largely depends on the size of the course. I have found a maximum of 4-6 students per group works best.
Once students are organized into groups, they are required to read two articles representing different sides to their debate topic. The articles generally come from the Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center (Greenhaven press-Wadsworth), but the Taking Sides series (Dushkin-McGraw Hill) has several useful topics as well. Topics specifically exploring work-life issues include:

  • Affirmative action
  • Child care
  • Comparable worth policies
  • Contingent work force
  • Corporate responsibility
  • Downsizing
  • Gender roles
  • Health insurance
  • Immigration
  • Labor unions
  • Minimum wage
  • Poverty and welfare
  • School to work transition
  • Sexual harassment
  • Wage gap
  • Working mothers
  • Young adults’ work values

In addition to the viewpoints articles, students are assigned readings from the text associated with their topic, as well as a selection on critical thinking and tools for reasoning (see Williams et al. 2006). Based on this information, each student types a two-page response to the following questions:

  1. What underlying issues are being debated in the readings?
  2. According to supporters, what are some possible advantages in favor of supporting the issue?
  3. According to those in opposition, what are some possible disadvantages to supporting the issue?
  4. What fallacies of reasoning emerge from the debate?
  5. What alternative policy/programs have been proposed or might be developed?
  6. What implications does the debate have for families in society?

The paper is graded in terms of how thorough the student answered each question and whether the student provides support for each answer with facts and/or examples from the readings. I generally make the paper worth 10-12 points.
For the class debate, student groups divide up the tasks of presenting underlying issues, the support position, the opposition, and any alternative policies/positions that could arise. The presentation is worth 10 points and is evaluated in terms of clarity, equal representation of view points, use of supporting evidence, and overall preparedness.
Following the presentation, the class divides into small groups to discuss the fallacies of reasoning and the implications of the debates for families. Following small group discussion, the class debriefs the activity as a large group and relates the discussion to broader course concepts. All students can earn participation points on debate days.

Bellon, J. (2000). A research based justification for debate across the curriculum. Argumentation & Advocacy, 36(3), 161-175. Retrieved from
Goodwin, J. (2003). Students’ perspectives on debate exercises in content area classes. Communication Education, 52(2), 157-163.
Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Wadsworth. Available at:
Taking Sides Series. Dushkin/McGraw-Hill. Available at:
Williams, B., Sawyer, S., & Wahlstrom, C. (2006). Learning how to think: Keys to being open-minded (pp. 47-53). In Marriages, Families, & Intimate Relationships: A Practical Introduction. Boston: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.
Additional Resources:
Bell, E. (1991). Debate: A strategy for teaching critical thinking. Nurse Educator, 16(2), 6-7.
Crone, J. (1997). Using panel debates to increase student involvement in the introductory sociology class. Teaching Sociology, 25(3), 214-218.
Dundes, L. (2001). Small group debates: Fostering critical thinking in oral presentations with maximum class involvement. Teaching Sociology, 29(2), 237-243.
Garrett, M. (1996). Debate: A teaching strategy to improve verbal communication and critical-thinking skills. Nurse Educator, 21(4), 37-40.
Green, C., & Klug, H. (1990). Teaching critical thinking and writing through debates: An experiential evaluation. Teaching Sociology, 18(4), 462-471.
Huryn, J. (1986). Debating as a teaching technique. Teaching Sociology, 14(4), 266-269.

Activity Source: 

Sweet, Stephen, Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes, Joshua Mumm, Judith Casey, and Christina Matz. 2006. Teaching Work and Family: Strategies, Activities, and Syllabi. Washington DC: American Sociological Association.

Strategies for Work-Family Integration, A Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Activity Description: 

Name of activity:

Strategies for Work-Family Integration

Related Encyclopedia Entry topic:

Border/Boundary Theory and Work-Family Integration


To explore concepts of border ambiguities and work-family integration


  1. Discussion Starter

    Ask students what "work" and "family" mean to them.

    Inquire whether there have ever been times when they have tried to "kill two birds with one stone," for example by bringing their work home or bringing their kids to work with them.
  2. Debate

    Ask for volunteers and get them to debate the topic — "Work and family— the twain shall never meet."

Alternatively, if you teach a large class you can ask two of your teaching assistants to prepare a short 3-5 minute case and have them debate it in front of the entire class putting the for and against case. This is especially effective at the beginning of a class to get the students engaged in the topic. You can also gauge the students' positions pre and post the debate.

Activity Source: 

Content contributed by Stephan Desrochers and Leisa D. Sargent as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity for the Sloan Networks’ Resources for Teaching section.

The Relationship Between Work and Family Lives, A Suggested Work and Family Class Activity

Activity Description: 


To discuss the linkages between work and family


Step 1- The class is divided into three groups. Two of the groups (Groups A and B) are instructed to defend one of the following statements in a 10-minute presentation to the class:

Group A: "Individuals' work and family lives are more likely to interfere with one another than strengthen one another."

Group B: "Individuals' work and family lives are more likely to strengthen one another than interfere with one another."

Group C serves as the judges for the debate.

Step 2- Group A and Group B are given 30 minutes to prepare their 10-minute presentation. Group C is given 30 minutes to establish the criteria it will use to judge the debate.

Step 3- Group A gives its presentation followed immediately by Group B's presentation.

Step 4- Group C announces the "winner" and explains the basis for its judgment.

Step 5- The instructor facilitates a discussion on when work and family interfere with one another and when work and family strengthen each other.

Activity Source: 

Content contributed by Jeffrey Greenhaus and Romila Singh as a Suggested Work and Family Class Activity for the Sloan Networks’ Resources for Teaching section.

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