Debate Activities in the Classroom

debateEach and every student possesses his or her own opinion. Classroom debates enable students to voice their opinions. A debate provides you with an opportunity to conduct yourself in a professional manner. According to the International Debate Education Association, “Debate is, above all, a way for those who hold opposing views to discuss controversial issues without descending to insult, emotional appeals or personal bias. A key trademark of debate is that it rarely ends in agreement, but rather allows for a robust analysis of the question at hand.”


Successful Classroom Debate Activities
In order to make debate activities successful, the teacher must ensure that each and every student is well-acquainted with the topic beforehand. Give them enough time to prepare and get motivated for the big day! You can play some games in the classroom leading up to the debate, and allow the competing teams to play against each other building a productive rivalry through words. Some of the classroom debate games are as follows:

1. A Four Corners Game

This debate game uses four corners of the classroom to get students moving.

Steps to follow
• Write the following opinions on four separate signs:
Strongly Agree, Somewhat Agree, Somewhat Disagree and Strongly Disagree
• Place each sign in each corner of the classroom.
• Various topics for students should be posed in the classroom. Decide on a topic based on the students’ age group and level of interest. For instance, in the elementary school, invite students to debate on statements such as, “It is important to eat from all the four food groups daily.” High school students might prefer a debate on “Should schools adopt a dress code?”
• Tell students to walk to the corner that best explains about how they feel about the topic. Give the groups a few minutes to talk about the topic and write down the reasons for their decision.
• Invite students to share their answers with the class. This debate game can be repeated with any other topic as well.

2. Card Game

This game will help students think carefully before they make an argument or rebuttal.

Steps to follow:
• Pull together a large number of index cards and write “Comment” on half and “Question” on the other half.
• Give out one of each card to the entire class.
• On the board, put up a debate topic or a resolution. Students must raise their hand and cash in the appropriate card to make a comment or question.
• Students will learn to keep their cards for when they have a very important point to make so you can reward players with extra cards for making excellent points or asking important questions.

3. Quick Debates/ Hat Debates

A hat debate requires the teacher to break the class into two teams: “For” and “Against”. The “For” team should sit in an outward-facing circle. The “Against” team should sit in a larger inward-facing circle with each member facing a member of the opposite team. A variety of debate topics are to be written on small slips of paper and placed in a hat. Often, such debates take place with just one speaker “for” and one speaker “against” the topic. It’s just a one-minute argument. One circle should rotate and then the teacher draws a new topic from the hat. Participants in this kind of debate have a minimal (or even no) time to prepare, so it’s a great practice for spontaneous thinking and arguments.

4. Inner Circle/Outer Circle Debate Strategy

This debate strategy centres on listening to the views of others and responding to them. It is a very good pre-writing debate strategy.

Steps to follow
• Arrange the students into four groups of equal size.
• Assemble the students of Group 1 in a circle and sit on chairs facing outward, away from the circle. Arrange students in Group 2 into a circle of chairs around Group 1, facing the students in Group 1. Groups 3 and 4 gather around the perimeter of the circle, facing the circle.
• Choose an issue that the students will be motivated to discuss/debate.
• Now, give students in the inner circle 10-15 minutes to discuss the topic. For this duration, all other students focus their attention on the students in the inner circle. Other students are not allowed to speak.
• Students in the outer circle take notes about points those students bring up; notes are used in a follow-up classroom discussion and/or for writing an editorial opinion expressing a point of view on the issue at hand.

5. Role Play Debate

In a role play debate, students scrutinize different points of view or perspectives related to an issue. For example, a debate about the question “Should students be required to wear uniforms at school?” might yield a range of opinions. Those might include views expressed by a student (or perhaps two students – one representing each side of the issue), a parent, a school principal, a police officer, a teacher, the owner of a clothing store, and others.

Steps to follow
• Whatever the issue is for debate in your classroom, decide in advance or ask students to help you identify the stakeholders in the debate.
• Then gather the index cards – one card for each student.
• Note down the roles of the stakeholders on the index cards, one stakeholder per card. Be sure you have at least three index cards for each stakeholder role.
• When it is time to debate, each stakeholder presents his or her point of view.
• After the presentations, the entire class can join in by asking questions of the individual stakeholders. When it ends, students decide which side of the debate — the Affirmative or Negative — presented the strongest case.

6. National and International Topics

National and international topics persuade children to think globally about the struggles, irrespective of the state or country boundaries.
In this context, some topics to be considered are:
• Is the government performing well?
• Should guaranteed health care be provided to all?
• What should be the response to global warming?
• What should be the function of the United Nations?

7. School and Local Issues

Children are most likely to be well- aware about local issues and issues affecting their school. For an exciting debate project, discuss an issue that kids are already experiencing or offer them an alternative as to how things are going currently. Children can debate on the following topics:
• Whether their class should have a field trip during the school year and where should they go.
• Whether they should be permitted to leave school premises during lunch.
• Whether the school cafeteria should only serve healthy food
• Whether kids should be able to attend school online.
• For younger grades, children can debate on whether there should be homework each night or whether the school day should be longer or shorter.

8. Creative Debate

Creative debate is a role-playing exercise. Students assume a specific point of view on a topic and debate a controversial topic from this perspective. Creative debates promote both critical thinking and tolerance of opposing views.

Steps to follow
• Divide the class into three groups. Select two groups to participate in the debate. The third group acts as an observer.
• Rearrange the classroom so that the opposing groups face one another and the observers are seated at one side.
• Present a reading selection that states one of the positions on the debate topic. Assign one group to argue for the selection; the other group argues against.
• Each student chooses a character from the past or present that signifies their position in the debate. (To speed up the process teachers may also suggest a list of characters.)
• Make each student introduce himself as a character to the class and then argue the topic from the perspective of this character. Encourage your students to ‘act out’ the character’s personality (speech patterns, mannerisms, etc.).
• Allocate ten minutes for each group to present their positons. Allow extra time for rebuttals.
• Next, ask the student teams to change their positions and argue the opposing viewpoint. (Perhaps the group of observers might change places with one of the other groups.)
• Repeat the debate and rebuttal process.
• At the end of the debate, ask students to reflect on their experiences.

Debates foster a great classroom environment by encouraging teamwork and friendly competition. Students tend to think analytically and express themselves clearly.

Hence, debates as an activity, help reach multiple classroom objectives: they not only practice speaking and listening skills, but also motivate students, develop their argumentation strategies, and encourage learner autonomy. Debates foster a great classroom environment by encouraging teamwork and friendly competition. Students tend to think analytically and express themselves clearly. Elementary, junior high (sometimes called middle school) and high schools use debates in the classroom, and the process becomes more sophisticated as the children get older. The maturity level of the students manipulates the debate style and expectations of the teacher. At the end of the day, every debate yields fruitful results!