Classroom Debates: How to Organize, Plan and Execute

If you are looking to try something new with your students or if you would like to enhance your existing unit on debating, this blog post is for YOU! I am going to share a few fun ideas that you can easily incorporate into your classroom. The goal of this blog post is to help teachers organize, plan and execute effective inquiry-based classroom debates. So, if you are ready to get started, check out the tips below to get started!

1. Start with some teen-related discussion topics

One of the easiest ways to draw in your students is to start with some topics that would be relatable to them. If students are trying to give an opinion on a topic that they can't relate to, it will be difficult to get the discussion going. First, display four signs in your room ('strongly agree', 'agree', 'strongly disagree' and 'disagree'). Not only will you get your students thinking, but you can also give them a break from the everyday work period and get them moving as well. Once you read out the opinion-related prompts, your students can go towards the sign in the classroom where their belief stands. Ask a student or two each round why they have the opinion that they do. You may even encounter a few students who change their minds during the process - this is encouraged! This shows that deeper-level thinking is going on. Here are a few topics that you could use with a middle or high school classroom.

- School uniforms should be mandatory
- Schools should always give out homework
- Cell phones should be allowed in class
- The school day should not be extended
- Rap music does not influence behavior
- Post-secondary education should not be free

Let them have their say on the topics, then put students in groups of two or three to come up with their own possible debate topics.

2. Review key debate terms

Once the students have had an opportunity to give an opinion on a few debate topics, you can now begin the process of reviewing some key debate terms. These terms are important to learn before going into a debate, so that they can be referred to throughout the debate process. In my Classroom Debate Outline mini-unit, I list 14 different debate terms and their definitions. These are the terms that I feel are important for students to recognize and understand, but you are definitely not limited to this list. Saying that, I feel like it encompasses the terms that students should know before the process begins.

3. Share some general debating tips

Like most school assignments and activities, there is a process and a set of expectations to follow. Debating is no different. To help your students get a better understanding of what's expected, go over a few general debating tips with them. Some they may expect, but others they may not. It's important to be aware of these tips. Due to the fact that this may not be the most engaging topic for your students in the process of learning how to create a debate, I created some encrypted puzzles on various general debating tips. My goal was to make this as engaging as possible. You can find these debating tips as a part of one of the challenges in this Debate Escape Room.

4. Do your research and learn the format

Research. Research. Research. Three important elements in any debate. Students need to be aware that they are not only researching their side of the argument, but the other side as well. They need to be aware of both sides, so they can adequately defend their arguments when needed.

Grab this FREE Debate Research Outline to help you get started!

Students will be required to brainstorm what they already know about the topic, then they will have an opportunity to look a little closer into a topic by completing some initial research. This outline would be a practice activity to use with a general topic first, then once they have a better idea, this outline can be used as a start for their actual debate topic. There's a lot of flexibility with the outline.

5. Prepare and execute the debate

This process will likely take your students a few weeks. I allow a good amount of time during the stage of preparation because students need time to plan and PRACTICE! Just as important as the actual debate itself is the preparation - it will show if a group is not prepared.

6. Follow-up the unit with extension activities

I don't know about you, but I usually follow-up my debate unit with an essay. Why? The essay format and the debate format are similar. Students need to be able to identify support for their side of an argument, then support that side with facts that they have found. Here are a few ways that you can "sell" this to your students.

I hope this blog post gave you a better idea, as to how you can incorporate the skill of debating into your classroom. Here are some other resources that you might find helpful!

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