I usually start a class on a particular global issue with some charts with country rankings. I have noticed that students like to compare countries and that it engages them in critical thinking. If the issue is health for example, I would ask the students whether they know “what is the average life span in the world,” “which countries are at the top, which ones are at the bottom,” etc. The students make guesses and then I show them the actual data. We talk about what we see on the chart for a few minutes. Then, I continue in the same way with health spending, fertility rates, disease prevalence, etc. The idea is to engage the students in thinking about these issues and then to use factual information.
Besides showing the numbers, I also ask follow-up questions. For example, “why do you think the U.S. spends more money on healthcare than any other country?” or “do you think that spending translates into better health care outcomes?” or “Why are fertility rates in poor countries so much higher than in the rich countries?” etc. Often the class discussion takes a new path as students become engaged by something else they see on the charts. I let them explore on their own and only guide the discussion to revolve around the factual information.
An additional benefit is that the students become more comfortable interpreting numbers and work with statistics. Also, they learn what data are available and from what institutions. Often, the students are not aware that such information is available and can be used in analyses and in their own term papers.