Strategies for Hot Button Moments

Several different strategies can transform challenging hot button moments into rich and productive learning moments. The key is finding which one will work best for your particular context. Here are two strategies that can be used to address Hot Button moments.

Strategy 1 – Suggestions

Below are suggestions for addressing hot button moments in the classroom and, in particular, how to facilitate classroom discussions around potentially difficult issues (CELT, n.d.; CRLT, 2020).


Exercises – Navigating a Hot Button Moment in the Classroom

  • Take a moment count to ten before speaking or reacting.
  • Understand your positionality about the issue.
  • Decide if you will come back to it in the moment; mark it as something the class will come back to at the next meeting.
  • Revisit or establish discussion guidelines.
  • Invite students to move around the room, write or sketch quietly, or take a few deep breaths to change the energy in the room before diving back in.
  • Find a way to connect the hot moment to course topics or learning goals.
  • When appropriate, seek to clarify and name students’ comments that have sparked tension.
  • Try to depersonalize positions of disagreement that have emerged in the learning environment.
  • Teach students the skills they need to participate in difficult conversations.
  • Identify University Resources.
  • When there has been a hot button moment – encourage self-reflection at the end of class. Give people a chance to decompress.
  • Consider connecting with trusted colleagues or friends.

Strategy 2 – Straight A’s Model

Another strategy to facilitate hot button moments is Diane J. Goodman’s “Straight A’s Model” (2015). This model outlines an effective way of addressing those sudden hot button moments in the classroom:


Exercises – Straight A’s Model of Navigating a Hot Button Moment

AFFIRM – Affirm and appreciate people’s comments and questions. 

  • Thank you for asking that question. I’m sure others were wondering about that too.
  • Interesting point. Let’s consider that.
  • I appreciate that you raised that point.
  • I appreciate your willingness to stay open and consider other perspectives.
  • I know this isn’t easy to think or talk about. Thank you for raising that point.

ACKNOWLEDGE – Acknowledge what people are saying. Make sure you understand what they’re expressing. Paraphrase their words and feelings.

  • I’m hearing you say that… Is that correct?
  • It sounds like you feel….
  • So from your perspective…
  • It seems like you’re both concerned about….even though you’re approaching it differently.
  • Those are both excellent examples of the effects of racism because….

ASK – Ask questions to better understand individuals’ behaviors and perspectives and to help them reflect on their views.

  • Can you tell me more about how you came to think that?
  • What experiences led you to that belief?
  • How would you make sense of…?
  • What would it mean for you if this was true….?
  • How were you feeling when…?

ADD – Add more information, historical/social/political context, or alternative explanations. Challenge misinformation, broaden people’s perspectives, address differences in power and privilege, and put issues in a larger context.

  • It is interesting you think that, I was taught…
  • This reminds me of a story I was told as a child…
  • This research study found that…
  • Let’s consider how the history of….may have contributed to what we see today.
  • How might people’s social identities affect their experiences in this situation?
  • What are some other explanations for this?


Center for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching (CELT). (n.d.). Navigating Hot-Button Campus Issues in the Classroom [handout]. Tufts University. Available at

Goodman, D.J. (2015). Straight A’s Model [Canvas module]. Canvas@UBC. Course module URL:

University of Michigan Center for Research on Learning and Teaching (CRLT). (2020). Making the Most of “Hot Moments” in the Classroom [handout]. University of Michigan. Available at


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Decolonizing the Engineering Curriculum Copyright © 2022 by Pamela Wolf, Ben Harris, Nika Martinussen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book