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!

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