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Speak Your Piece
Controversial Issues


A Guide for Teachers, Youth
and Community Workers

The Speak Your Piece project is grateful for the assistance of the University of Ulster, the Youth Council for Northern Ireland, the European Regional Development Fund, the Department of Education Northern Ireland, Ulster Television and Channel 4 Schools.


Off The Walls
Speak Your Piece
Using the booklet
Programme 1:Identity Guidance notes
Worksheet 1
Programme 2:Culture Guidance notes
Worksheet 2
Programme 3:Religion Guidance notes
Worksheet 3
Programme 4:Politics Guidance notes
Worksheet 4
Programme 5:The Choice Guidance notes
Worksheet 5a
Worksheet 5b
Worksheet 6:Review

Additional uses of the programmes
Useful references
Contact addresses

Off The Walls

History says, Don't hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

from The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney

Welcome to Off The Walls and Speak Your Piece, a pioneering Channel 4 Schools Television series and a curriculum research and development project based at the University of Ulster. Focused on education for mutual understanding and controversial issues work with young people in formal and informal contexts, this project represents a major confidence building effort by committed film makers, writers, teachers, youth workers, community workers and university researchers in Northern Ireland.

The five Off The Walls films, produced at Ulster Television by Art O'Briain and John Kelly, are to be transmitted on Channel 4 Schools in 1996/97 and 1997/98. Interweaving drama, documentary and studio debate, they are fashioned for 14-17 year olds but experience has already shown that they can be used productively with older groups in a variety of contexts.

Presented in an easygoing yet thought-provoking style by John Kelly, the films explore complex and contentious issues of identity, culture, religion, politics and future choices. Filmed in Belfast and Jerusalem, they offer challenging insights into the heart of conflict and conflict resolution in Northern Ireland and the Middle East.

This programme guide is for teachers, youth and community workers and other facilitators who bring energy, enthusiasm and commitment to their work. It has been prepared by an experienced Speak Your Piece project team and offers support and advice to help young people engage with divisive and controversial issues in their society.

The films and the work of the project were presented at an International Seminar on Education for Peace and Tolerance in Jerusalem in June 1996 and received a positive response. Poet and broadcaster, Damien Gorman, commenting at that conference on the role of the creative arts in conflict resolution said:  

resources for mutual understanding should be the engines of approaching the unapproachable, and saying the unsayable. They should be programmes which, like the lone protester at Tianamen Square, encourage us to turn round and face our own tanks. They must say 'This is what peace is like, what justice is like.' We must use the arts to open up valves between people - somehow to open our hearts.

Channel 4 Schools Television and the Speak Your Piece project are interested to receive your comments about the films and this programme guide. We hope you enjoy the series and that the young people find it stimulating. You are welcome to keep in touch with project developments through the contact addresses listed on page 31.

Peter Logue - Channel 4 Schools


Speak Your Piece

Speak Your Piece originated alongside the Channel 4 television series as a research and development project based at the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland. It is founded on the principle that educators have a positive contribution to make in helping young people engage with controversial social, cultural, religious and political issues by:

  • enabling dialogue which is forthright and inclusive

  • providing alternatives to violence and avoidance as a means of resolving conflict

  • facilitating participatory decision-making which encourages democratic processes

To support those working with the programmes 20 youth and community workers and teachers from 20 schools have been involved in a pilot phase of the project. The pilot phase has been concerned with the development of methods and processes for handling controversial issues.

The work of the project supports the cross curricular themes of Education for Mutual Understanding and Cultural Heritage. The project encourages an appreciation of the shared and distinct characteristics of cultural traditions in Northern Ireland and provides opportunities for the exploration of controversial social and political issues. Teachers of English, History, Religious Education and Personal and Social Education are actively involved in the developmental work.

The project also supports community relations work within the Northern Ireland Youth Services. It has particular significance for those working with young people on issues of human rights, democracy, justice and conflict resolution.

Beyond Northern Ireland the project has relevance for Irish studies, for the themes of Citizenship and Community Understanding in England and Wales and for the Civic, Social and Political Education programme in the Republic of Ireland.

Speak Your Piece is funded by the European Regional Development Fund, the Department of Education for Northern Ireland and the Youth Council for Northern Ireland in partnership with the University of Ulster, Ulster Television and Channel 4 Schools.

Using the booklet

This booklet is for those working with young people in the formal and informal education sectors, including teachers, full-time youth and community workers, and voluntary and part-time workers within the youth services and community sectors. It is designed to help explore the full potential of the television series Off The Walls. The section which accompanies each programme includes:

  • a short description of programme content
  • three key questions related to the programme theme
  • a worksheet of suggested activities

Central to the work is an exchange of views through discussion and debate. It is strongly recommended that those using these resources embrace the following principles:

  • a willingness to examine their own feelings on the issues before working with young people
  • good preparation involving a group agreement to encourage trust, sensitivity and mutual respect
  • the development of an atmosphere which allows views to be expressed openly
  • the use of enquiry, evidence and additional resources as a means of grounding debate.

Emotional responses and heated discussion are part of dealing with controversial issues. Discussion can be effective when the facilitator is in a position to clarify, challenge, prompt and question to enable forthright and inclusive dialogue.

The facilitator should consider and clarify his or her role within the group prior to the activities. Different roles may be appropriate for different activities. To encourage inclusive dialogue and to facilitate discussion and debate, roles could be adopted such as the following; chair, organiser, devil's advocate, expert witness. It is also possible that the facilitating role is transferred on occasion to a member of the group. This enables the main facilitator to become an active participant or a neutral observer.

Having worked through the issues raised by the programmes, teachers and youth workers may wish to explore them further from the perspective of their own specialist interests (pages 26 - 27).

The following icons are used throughout the booklet to denote quotations from the three strands of the television programme:

Jerusalem essaysdrama sequences studio debate
Activities in the booklet are designed for use on an individual and group basis. The following icons are used to indicate the recommended number of people involved in each group activity.
in pairsin small groups the whole group

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