5 Steps to Planning a Successful Debate with Your Class

There's no debate about it! We all know the importance of developing students' speaking and listening skills and class debates are a fantastic way to do this; yet, many of us shy away from using them in our lessons, concerned at the level of planning and potential lack of involvement.

Debating should be a fun activity, for students AND for teachers. Whether you are a complete novice or just looking to change up the way that you use debates in your classroom, read on to discover five steps to a successful student debate (with minimal time and prep involved!)

Step 1 - Choosing a Topic

The key to a successful debate and I cannot stress this enough, is choosing the right topic. While some teachers choose to use debates to further students' understanding of the curriculum, debates are also an excellent way of linking learning in class to issues in education and the wider world. Example topics for debates could include: whether cell phones should be allowed in schools; whether the school day should be shortened; whether higher taxes should be placed on processed food products to encourage healthier eating; whether video games and rap music influence negative behavior...the list goes on! Choose a topic that excites and motivates your students; the more passionately they feel about a particular subject, the livelier the debate will be!

Step 2 - Provide Examples

Teachers that are new to debating often worry that the lack of structure will lead to chaos. Fear not...there are a few simple ways to keep order in your classroom! As with all new activities, practice makes perfect. If this is your first debate with a new class, then it's essential to make clear expectations. A good way to do this is to watch some example debates together (hello, YouTube!) and discuss the order of the debate and the language and behavior of the speakers. Using the students' feedback, create a list of rules and procedures to be displayed around the room and refer back to them frequently. Finally, remember to incentivize good behavior; appoint some good 'spies' (such as a classroom teacher aide or assistant) and ask them to reward those students who demonstrate good debating etiquette. Your class will be pros before you know it!

Step 3 - Planning 

Split your class into two groups - the affirmative and the negative. Although it's tempting to rush straight into debating while students are inspired, give them time to research and plan their ideas first; the organization and quality of ideas will be much better as a result. Short on time or not sure where to start? My Classroom Debate Outline pack includes the perfect pre-debate planning sheet, which helps students to develop their initial ideas and present them in a logical sequence. Even better, it's suitable for all topics so it can be used again and again for different classes and age ranges.

Step 4 - Active Listening

Worried certain members of your classroom will interrupt others while they are talking? Effective listening is a fundamental life skill. Encourage students to write down key points about both sides of the argument while listening to others speak; this will not only keep them on task but will also help to prepare them for any written activity that may follow the debate. Alternatively, try randomly selecting students in the class to question the views of the opposition; they'll need to pay close attention to the opposition's argument in order to form their own counter-attack on the spot.

Step 5 - Post-Debate Activity

Class debates are the ideal to prepare for persuasive or argumentative essays. Having heard both sides of an argument, students can use their notes to write up their own response to the topic of the debate. The Classroom Debate Outline pack also includes an essay assignment and rubric. Simply print it out and your student's are ready to get to work. Zero planning needed. Hear hear!

Students love to argue, so let's start using that to our advantage! If you wish to improve your students' critical thinking skills, foster their research and presentation skills, or simply include more opportunities for teamwork in your lessons, then consider incorporating class debates into your lessons.

Give these tips and try and let me know how it goes in the comments below!

5 Steps to Essay Teaching Success

So, the new term is here. You’ve met your classes, prepped your room and (just about!) got used to those early alarms again, and now it’s time to get down to the serious business of lesson planning.

One of my absolute favorite topics to teach in the first term is essay writing. The 5-paragraph essay is an essential skill in English; teach it right at the beginning of the term and you set your students up to do well for the rest of the year. As an English teacher, it’s not often I use math, but a better essay technique = better grades + fewer corrections to mark each time. A win-win for every teacher out there who doesn’t still want to be correcting students’ uses of topic sentences and paragraphs come next June!

Teaching essay writing doesn’t need to be boring or time-consuming. You don’t need to spend hours preparing resources or scouring the internet for good example essays. And you definitely don’t need to take home stacks of marking at the end of the week!

The Essay Writing Scavenger Hunt pack has been designed to keep things as easy as possible. These are real, tried-and-tested resources used for essay writing every day in my classroom. Resources that I know work. Use them alongside the 5 steps and watch essay writing become a topic you love to teach too!

STEP 1: Teach the features

If you want students to structure their essays correctly, then first you must teach them what a good essay looks like. I like to start by giving students a list of the different features typically included in an essay:

The first step is for students to work out what these features actually mean! There are loads of different ways to do this. Got a really energetic class who loves to be active? Hand out a blank answer sheet and hide the printed definitions around the room. Then, ask students to find and match the definitions to the techniques on their sheet. You can make this more competitive by putting a countdown timer on the board; students enjoy the challenge of trying to finish first and in the time limit!

Do you have access to technology? This activity works really well as an independent research task- great for those lessons when you need a bit of quiet time (Friday afternoon lesson anyone?) Simply hand out the worksheet and ask students to research the different techniques. Save yourself even more time and get students to self-mark and extend their answers once finished using the official answer sheet.

For lower ability classes, hand out the glue sticks and get students to match the techniques to the correct definitions.  This is a great activity for reluctant writers too!

STEP 2: Crack out the colors!

Once students know what the features are, the next step is to see them in use.  

Is there any age group that doesn’t appreciate a bit of coloring-in time? Students follow the instructions on the worksheet to identify and color the different techniques in the example essays. No need to spend hours searching for the perfect model essays or writing out your own! This works great as an individual, paired or group activity, or can even be set as homework to reinforce the learning in class.

No colors in your classroom? No problem! Students can identify and write out examples of the different features instead.

STEP 3: Encourage students to argue (no, really!)

This part is my favorite! Now students know how to structure an essay, they need to choose an essay topic. Whether I’m teaching persuasive or argumentative essay writing, I always start with a discussion-based activity to get my students thinking. A good way to do this is to display on the board a number of controversial statements and ask students to argue their opinion in small groups.  

Pick your topics right and students get really into this! Some of the most successful discussions in the past have focused on the need for homework; whether football players are overpaid; whether the school curriculum should be remodeled; and whether it should be compulsory for everyone to give 10% of their earnings to charity. Hot topics of debate for sure!

With your students all riled up and passionate about changing the world, this is the time for them to choose and plan their own essay topics. I always like to give my classes a free rein on what they argue. Firstly, this means they are more passionate about a topic and work harder on constructing their argument and researching supporting evidence. Secondly, it helps me to get to know better my students and what really matters to them.

The rule in my classroom for planning is simple. Students can plan their ideas however they want to, but no writing takes place until they can explain clearly to somebody else in the room their three different supporting arguments, and what they will include in their introduction and conclusion to grab and hold the reader’s attention. If they can’t do that, they’re not ready to write!

Step 4: Writing the right way

In my classroom, we take writing seriously. Dim the lights, put on relaxing music, get out headphones, insist on silence…. do whatever you need to do to create a calm working environment.

The key to good essay writing is structure. What you don’t want at this point is for your students to get so passionate about getting their argument down on paper that they forget to include the features they’ve been taught!

A good way to avoid this is to make sure students have their plans with them as they write and a checklist of features that you want them to include.  Ticking off ideas and essay features as they include them in their writing means they should end up with a perfectly structured five-paragraph essay. You can grab a FREE copy of this Essay Editing Checklist, HERE!

If not, there’s always step number 5….

Step 5: Check and change

Final stop… editing. Rather than allowing students to hand in their essays as soon as they’ve finished, insist that they first check and improve their work. As teachers, we spend enough time marking; what’s the point in giving feedback on work that isn’t even the students’ best work?

Of course, this is easier said than done: we’ve all got students in our classroom who will give their work a cursory flick over and announce it’s perfect exactly as it is!

Peer-assessment using a checklist makes the process a whole lot easier. Using the same colors as before, students can color code the features used in their partners’ essays, making it easier to see if anything has been missed.This checklist is included in the Essay Writing Scavenger Hunt activity!

Once they’ve checked the accuracy of their writing and included any missing features, students are ready to hand in their work.

And voila! As promised, in 5 easy steps, you’ve got yourself a class set of beautifully structured, checked and improved five-paragraph essays ready for marking. No hours of preparation or resource-hunting required.

Whether you’re teaching essay writing for the first time to your students, or refreshing what they’ve learned in previous years, I hope these tips help to make the process both fun and hassle-free. Let me know in the comments any other tips you’d like to share!

5 Classroom Escape Room Tips & Puzzle Ideas

Do you use escape rooms in your classroom? Are you reluctant because of the time it may take to prepare the materials? Have no fear, the answers are here! I have been using escape rooms in my classroom for about a year now and I have come up with several fun, low-prep solutions, and tips so that escape rooms can easily be incorporated into your classroom. All of the escape rooms that I have created have the teacher in mind (at all times!) Teachers have enough on their plates. I understand this because I'm a teacher, too!

Yes, escape rooms can be intimidating at first, but once you get the hang of one, you (and your students) won't be able to get enough of them! They are a fun learning tool and serve as an excellent team-building activity. They are great to use during back-to-school, before holidays or at the end-of-the-year, when students are full of energy!

You don't necessarily NEED to use locks, but it is sometimes fun to use the lock as an introductory activity to the escape room itself. For example, I give each group one lock and a bunch of possible lock codes. You can give as many or as little as you'd like, depending on the time available.  In order for the teams to gain access to the contents of the first escape room, they have to select that right combination and bring me the unlocked device! Once they do that, I hand them their first task and they are on their way. I use my escape rooms as races, so students are pretty frantic when they are unlocking their device. It's pretty funny to see them get excited about these activities, especially high school students. Sometimes it takes them a few tries, even if they selected the right combination, because they are in such a panic to get it open! Grab this FREE (Editable) Lock Challenge HERE!

*Don't go out and buy the locks if you don't need to! Check with your school secretary first and use the extra locks that the school may already provide for the students!*
Examples of the unlock code handouts I gave each group!

While the escape room concept is typically designed for small groups, there is nothing to say that a student couldn't complete the activity individually or in pairs. I have given students an escape challenge if they are finished their work early, as a homework activity, and even as bonus work for a fun, critical-thinking assignment. Students are always happy to be working on something if they have nothing else to do, providing it is fun and engaging! Escape rooms created for classroom use are learning tools, so while students may be working on puzzles and games, they are still LEARNING!

Perhaps the best part about escape rooms is that you do not have to grade them! Why? Because the activities in the challenge are aimed to promote collaboration amongst peers. Saying that, should you or your administration require that these activities be graded, you can easily give each participant this FREE Escape Room Participation Rubric for their efforts. This way, you can still hold students accountable for their work ethic. On a side note, if you're tech-savvy, you can definitely create Google Forms to make the answer checking even faster.

Teachers, this one is especially for you! (But don't tell your students!) 😃 If you're not wanting to start anything new before a holiday break or you are trying to keep your classes under control with an impending holiday around the corner, check out these Holiday Escape Room activities.  The best part? These are not content-specific, so these can easily be incorporated into any class where time could be filled. In addition, you can mix and match the challenges depending on the time available, so if you can't get through all of the challenges included, you can pick which ones will work best for students and save the rest for another year (or class).

Holiday Escape Room Sanity Savers

Anxious for the chaos that comes along with students before Christmas break, spring break, end-of-the-year, etc.? No problem! I've got you covered, in addition to several other holidays through the year! Check out all of my escape rooms, (including the ones pictured above) HERE! These fun activities and puzzles will help to calm the chaos (and help YOU keep you sanity) during those exciting times of the year.

Students have to review for their tests anyway, so why not ultilize classtime effectively for this review? I create escape rooms for a variety of the units I teach. It takes a TON OF TIME, but it's a really effective way to see where your students' skills and/or abilities are at. For example, I wanted to see how much my students knew about the basics of a 5-paragraph essay, so I created an escape room that covered various elements about essays. This gave me an idea of what experience students had writing essays, as well, it serves as a good reminder of the important elements of an essay, which were the expectations and requirements of their upcoming assignment.

This Essay Writing Escape Room reviews the following topics: (a) Types of Essays, (b) Parts of an Essay, (c) Essay Trivia, (d) 5 Paragraph Essay Format, (e) Thesis Statements, and (f) Essay Terminology. Students are not only learning more about the essay writing process, but also getting a refresher on what they may have previously learned.

I hope some of these tips and tricks will give you a better idea about how you can incorporate escape room activities into your classrooms! Trust me, once you do one, they will want to do more!