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Debates encourage students to study all sides of a particular issue.

A key part of this strategy is to not tell students which side of the debate question they will be arguing. Students should also have an opportunity to frame the debate question themselves.

This strategy is best employed toward the end of an instructional period, after students have had an opportunity to research and consider content issues.

National Council Teachers of English Standards

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4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, and vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, and people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.

8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, and video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.

  • Red Wolf News (June 2002)
    Red Wolf Recovery Program newsletter for October 2001 through June 2002

    PDF document (111.4 kb)

Other materials:
  • Research materials for pre-debate preparation (includes web-based, library materials, etc.)
  • Debate rules of order
  • Videotapes of historical debates from PBS
  • Scoring sheets
  • Assessment rubrics

Instructional sequence:
  • Have students debate a topic of interest as a warm-up activity (e.g., a school rule).
  • Discuss the concept of a "debate" with students, why debates are effective methods for considering an issue, and why students must understand all facets of an issue in order to debate a particular side. Also share assessment criteria with students.
  • Develop topics and debate questions; select a final question for debate. Student involvement in this step is especially important; opinion issues where students are already in disagreement are especially useful.
  • Organize students into pairs or small teams to complete research; individual students may be assigned specific roles on a team. Division may be "pro" and "con" on a question. However, students must research both sides of a question in order to prepare for opposing team's arguments.
  • Select students for each opposing team (this can be done randomly or by some criteria).
  • Complete debate under agreed-to rules of order. Students not participating directly in debate will serve as scorers.
  • After debate, students should write an expressive or descriptive essay focusing on their own opinions and the knowledge they gained from participating in the debate.
  • Select a team member to summarize the main points of debate.

  • Include parents or subject experts as members of the research team and/or debating team.
  • Complete debate with other classes in attendance, or make the debate a public event.
  • Require that students argue the side to which they are opposed.
  • Focus on one topic, but utilize several different questions in order to include as many students as possible.
  • Students not participating directly in debate could be asked to chart the debate's progress, highlighting main points, comparing strength of points raised, rebuttals, etc.
  • Encourage questions from audience and use debaters' responses as part of the scoring.

  • Videotape the debate and allow students to self- assess
  • Teacher assessment rubric/expressive essay
  • Self-assessment and/or peer-assessment rubric (For help in constructing a debate assessment rubric, see Rubistar)

Literacy advancement:
  • Reading required for research and development of arguments
  • Exposure to vocabulary
  • Consideration of content validity
  • Organization of written and spoken thought
  • Prediction skills

Author: Jones, Ruby

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