Debates in the middle school classroom
A plan for staging a debate, including choosing a topic, "debate do's," and assessment.
Why do we have dress codes? Why is homework necessary? Why do we have assigned seats? Why can’t we talk? Why can’t we tattoo our bodies using board markers? Why can’t we use lotion in class? Why do have to be quiet during announcements?
Why? Why? Why? Students are naturally inquisitive and sometimes quite spirited “know-it-alls.” Why not capitalize on this somewhat annoying behavior? As teachers we need to work smarter, not harder. Using students’ natural talent of arguing and challenging authority, we can channel student energy into a positive learning assignment. Debates offer that natural avenue for teachers to facilitate analytical thinking.
Classroom debates enable students to work cooperatively, brainstorm ideas, develop vocabulary and read to support an opinion. By conducting research, students are taking notes to summarize, to question, and to clarify information. Students are identifying the main idea, deleting less important information, collapsing, categorizing, and labeling information. Questioning allows students to explain and to explore additional facts for clarification purposes. These comprehension skills are essential for students to become competent readers and writers linking debates directly to the entire curriculum.
Debates allow students to become more proficient in speaking, researching, reading, and writing skills, and they promote reasoning as well as communication skills. Fact-filled and passionate debates provide the incentive for students of all academic and socioeconomic levels to become engaged and to participate in the debate process. In addition, debates, both formal and informal, are a vehicle for students to express their opinions assertively in a respectful manner on a relevant issue or topic.
Before the debate
A debate is a discussion in which participants articulate, justify, and clarify their positions on an issue. In this informal debate plan, rebuttals attempt to refute statements made by the opposing side.
Select the topic
The topic for a debate evolves from what you are teaching. For example, as students study World War II, students could debate the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Other debates topics may include: Should recycling be required? Should all the countries of Europe be required to join the European Union? Should North Carolina begin a lottery?
Take a stand
Who’s pro and who’s con? Every debate has two sides, the affirmative side and the negative side. The affirmative side, “pro”, supports a proposition. The opposing or negative side, “con”, opposes the proposition. The teacher can divide the class into pros and cons, or students may choose their own stance.
Let the research begin
Allow one to three class periods for research. Fact gathering should support the student’s point of view. Three to five resources are recommended. Students need a structured framework to guide their research. A template for taking notes is shown below. We strongly suggest students understand the model before the media visit. It will make your media visit much more pleasant!
|Opinion: I believe the United States should have bombed Hiroshima.|
Select a moderator
The moderator directs the debate and may be the teacher or a student. A student moderator should be able to speak clearly and keep everyone on task in a respec tful manner. The moderator formally introduces the debate topic and recognizes students to speak alternating between pro and con.
Ensuring equitable participation
Distribute 4″ x 6″index cards. On the front side, students will write their names and either PRO or CON in large, bold letters. Raising the card will indicate the student’s request to speak. Students will track their participation by making a fold in the card every time they speak. To ensure equitable participation, after three folds, students should not speak until all students have had an opportunity to voice their opinion. (The back of the index card will be used in a post-debate activity.)
Opening and closing statements
Students may volunteer to make opening and closing statements, or the teacher may appoint students. Setting the tone for the debate, the students should have a prepared speech (one to three minutes). The debate begins with an opening statement from the pro side, followed by a statement from the con side. Opening statements should include each side’s opinion with a brief overview of the supporting evidence.
The debate ends with closing statements from both sides. Again the pro side speaks first followed by the con side. The planned closing statements (one to three minutes) should restate the opinions with strong supporting evidence.
Students need expectations spelled out. It may be a good idea to develop a list of Debate Do’s together as a class. The following items should be on the list. We suggest that these Debate Do’s be posted in the classroom and referenced often:
- Be polite and courteous.
- Listen attentively
- Be respectful and supportive of peers.
- Avoid inappropriate noises.
- Speak only when recognized by the moderator.
- Allow others to express their opinions; do not monopolize the debate.
- Use grammatically correct language.
- Speak clearly, slowly, and loud enough to be heard by the audience.
- Speak with passion and excitement.
After the debate
The debate is over, and it’s time to review and evaluate.
The index card used to designate pro or con will now be used for debate reflections. Using the back of the card, students will express their reactions to the debate in a media of their choice. Suggestions include summarizing the debate in a paragraph or a poem, designing a cartoon, billboard, or a bumper sticker, or creating a graphic that represents their opinion.
This rubric, designed for student success, guides teachers and students in the evaluation process. Extra credit can be awarded to the opening and closing speakers and to students who use more resources. We like to staple the rubric to the completed assignments. There again, work smarter and not harder.
|Number of Points||Points Earned|
|All work is neat, legible, and turned in on time.||10|