The following suggestions from the teaching centre at Vanderbilt University may ease those volatile discussion situations:
Have the class establish and agree on ground rules for discussion. Clarifying expectations about class discussions early on can prevent contentious situations later. Discussion ground rules might include:
Always use a respectful tone.
No interrupting or yelling.
No name-calling or other character attacks.
Ask questions when you do not understand; do not assume you know what others are thinking.
Try to see the issue from the other person’s perspective before stating your opinion.
Maintain confidentiality (what is said in the classroom stays in the classroom.)