Following the Conversation
...and Staying Current with Topics

How to talk about it in class:

Why is it important?

Students may not know how to follow a conversation in the popular press, let alone in scholarly publications, and may not understand how this would be helpful to them. Explain to them that following the conversation occurring around their controversy will help them find sources, and give them a deeper understanding of the viewpoints they are discovering since they are seeing them as part of a conversation, rather than just as separate statements. You can illustrate this point by facilitating a discussion about their own experiences doing this and pointing out that just as they have debates, so do authors and you can find them playing out on the web, and in magazines, newspapers and scholarly journals.


  • Have you ever had a disagreement with a family member or friend about something happening in the world or in your community? If you feel comfortable, tell us what it was about. When you were discussing it, what did you learn about the other person’s perspective? How did hearing their argument affect how you stated your own case?
  • When do you take part in conversations on the Web? Do you have an example of a time when you contributed to a conversation? (Wikipedia, Yelp!, Facebook or Twitter)

How do you follow the conversation?

Once they understand why following a conversation may be useful, show them how to do it using the resources listed below.

How do you stay current with a topic?

It’s not typically in a student’s purview to track their paper topics in the news, but if they get in the habit of doing so, you may see some next level engagement and enthusiasm as they become invested with their topics and the debates surrounding them. Be mindful that this is new territory for them, so give them all the tips you can for tracking an issue in the news. Have them set a Google News Alert

Tips for following a conversation

Newspapers & Magazines

  • Explain how Letters to the Editor work, that they are typically in response to another letter or an article published in that same publication.

Scholarly Journals

  • Follow citations to find articles that reference a work.
  • TIP! Google Scholar and select library databases (Web of Science is one example) will include a "Cited By" or "Times Cited" link for an article, which will link you to other articles that have referenced that work.

Blogs and the Web

  • Look for "Trackback" posts at the bottom of a blog posting that reveal other blogs linking to that post.
  • Use "link:" before a URL in Google to find other sites linking to a post.
  • Follow authors or publications on Twitter or Facebook to see how the writers are engaging in the conversation


  • Use Google Books to search for books that include a work in its references. Use the book or article title as a search term.

Resources and Tips for Staying Current with your Topic to Teach your Students:

Activities & Assignments:

  • Tracking a conversation in Wikipedia: Show your students a Wikipedia article with a robust editing history. The View History tab at the top of every Wikipedia article shows you how the article has been revised over its lifetime. How has the argument changed over time? Every Wikipedia article also has a Talk Tab, which is where contributors discuss the article with each other. The conversations can include useful debates that reflect how points of view alter interpretation of the same facts. Which edits are most controversial? Gun Control is an example of an article with a robust editing and discussion history. Use the date range in the View History tab to focus on a time period you know to be significant to the issue.
  • Opinionated Twitter account: Is there a journalist, politician or scholar on Twitter that you know inspires debate? Show a conversation that demonstrates such. Try @nytdavidbrooks.
  • Daily Texan Opinion pages: Perusing the opinion pages on the Daily Texan will show students how their peers are engaging with current issues.
  • If you want to see evidence of them following a conversation, rather than just teaching them how as a helpful research practice, ask them to find a viewpoint article and a reaction to it and bring it to class.