By Anna Olinger
“Student debate has the capacity to both deeply engage the students in relevant learning, and to encourage students to be deep thinkers,” said Ben Johnson, educator, administrator and author.
Having students participate in a debate is an opportunity for them to engage with the material they’re studying using an effective and social platform.
Forming and analyzing the opinions of themselves and others can be a daunting task for young debaters; bringing a debate environment into the classroom may feel daunting to you, as a teacher, as well.
Luckily, there are many tools and resources available to teach passionate teachers and inexperienced debaters how to debate. The following resources are a great place to start, allowing you to engaged students in a way that’s social, educational and exciting.
Research Debate Materials
The International Debate Education Association’s website provides students with a powerful search engine to start formulating their debate. Here they can find the materials they need to form educated arguments on topics related to culture, the environment, animal welfare, science, technology, sports and more.
Structuring Debate Process and Guidelines
This free, printable list of simple rules from Debateable.com (such as penalties for interrupting) will help you form proper debate formats and motions. As the class learns the rules and regulations, you can begin adding in other roles and guidelines specific to student needs, preferences and debate styles
Debateable.com also provides you with an outline of the debate process from preparation and planning to final results. It includes basic instructions and questions you need to answer before the debate begins.
Finding Debate Topic Ideas
This website provides you and your students with more than 40 debate topics and questions provided by Barbara D. Martin.
This blog regularly publishes argumentative essays that students can use for research, and as a way to learn how to form their opinions and communicate their perspectives.
This Portland, Oregon county library provides more than 25 debate topics related to affirmative action, animal rights, child labor and other social issues.
Three more debate-topic resources:
- 50 Persuasive Speech and Debate Topics Relevant Today
- Interesting Debate Topics: Social, Cultural and Beyond
- 182 Questions to Write or Talk About
Setting Up the Debate
Students should be divided to specific sides of an argument, one in favor and and one against the opposition. And they need to take turns presenting their arguments, as well as responding to what the other side has presented.
The objective is persuading the rest of the class (or audience) one-way or the other. The students acting as the audience should also have an opportunity to speak. Even if they are not on a debate side, they should be encouraged to ask pertinent questions, and to give their own opinions during this time.
Use a buzzer app to signal a switch to the next person or group, or to allow spectators to buzz in with questions or comments.
A timekeeper and controller are also necessary. There needs to be someone who keep events moving and oversees the process. The timekeeper should also control the audience, or floor, section of the debate.
This time allows quieter students an opportunity to be introduced to the concept of public speaking with confidence and teachers should consider rotating students to allow everyone a chance to experience every position.
Google sheets allows the controller and timekeeper to note who spoke, when they spoke, etc. This will also provide you with valuable insight into who’s participating and who’s not.
Before the debate teachers should have students form research teams. Educators need to help students understand straightforward arguments and how to construct them. They should suggest the proper research material in order for student’s to form perspectives. This will be the foundation for forming good motion during the debate and allows students to think about their speeches in relation to their studies.
Students can organize their information in a tool like Live Binders and share with other students when and if necessary. Similarly, they could use Evernote, which also makes it easy to organize based on topics.
Debates can be on any subject—from Shakespeare’s plays and famous literature, to economics and physics—there simply needs to be a subject and two proposed sides of an argument.
With technology, now every teacher can get the information they need to learn how to debate and set students up for a successful and exciting activity. Start with the provided list above and add new tools as you discover what makes debates effective in your classroom.