Office of the Faculty Teaching Fellow

Value Line

A Value Line ascertains students' opinions in a quick and visual way by asking them to line up according to how strongly they agree or disagree with a statement or proposition. In a philosophy class, for example, instructors may ask students to respond to the following statements:

  • The killing of innocents is never justified.
  • The United States made the correct decision in dropping the bomb on Nagasaki.
  • The United States should not have intervened in Iran.
  • The bombing of Dresden was an act of terrorism.

Clear instructions reinforced by visual aids are particularly important for implementation of a Value Line because many students are unaccustomed to active learning that involves active movement.

To initiate the structure, teachers should show the students a five point Likert scale on an overhead. They then ask students, after a moment of "think time," to choose the number that best describes their position on the issue. To avoid indecisiveness, it is a good idea to have the students jot down their number before the next step. Instructors next ask students who have chosen "one" to stand at a designated point along the wall of the room. The students who have chosen "two" follow them, and so forth until all students are lined up. It is important to stretch the line sufficiently so that students are not bunched together in large clumps. Rather than opinions, faculty members can have students select numbers based on their proficiency or comfort level with given topics such preparing and giving oral presentations.

After the students have formed a continuous line based on their own opinions, instructors must identify the midpoint. The easiest way to do this is to ask students to ignore the original number they selected as the basis for their location in the line and instead to number themselves sequentially in a military count-off. The median, of course, is determined by dividing the last number by two.

The next steps are critically important. The teachers can then form the first group of four students by taking one from each extreme of the line and two from its midpoint. To insure the rapid and accurate identification of these four students, it is helpful to use an overhead transparency allowing the instructor to draw lines through the numbers associated with students who have been assigned to teams. A simple numerical grid works well. In a class of 40, for example, she or he would call the numbers 1, 40, 15, and 14, striking over them on the grid. For the next team, the teacher would call 2, 39, 13, and 16, again striking over the numbers on the grid. If the class is large, instructors can ask a student from the first group formed to record on the whiteboard or a flip chart the four numbers as they are called out for each team. Instructors continue to form teams with this procedure until all students have been assigned to a team and have found their designated seats. Any students left over join a team as a fifth member.

A Value Line lends itself well to paired discussion, also. To form pairs or dyads where students can exchange viewpoints on various topics, teachers have the students line up as before based on their stand on a controversial issue. This time, instead of pulling four students from the ends and mid-points to form a quad, they break the line at the midpoint and literally double it back around so that the two students at each end are paired, and so on (e.g., 1 and 40 pair; 2 and 39 pair; 3 and 38 pair, etc.). Pairing students of opposing viewpoints allows them to stretch their perspectives and to learn to examine at least two sides of an issue.

Contributed by:

Barbara J. Millis, Ph.D


The Teaching and Learning Center

The University of Texas at San Antonio

Room JPL 4.03.03, One UTSA Circle

San Antonio, Texas 78249-0694

210-458-7374     Fax:  210-458-7372