When I ask my students what project or activity they enjoy most about class, the most common answer is debate. We don’t debate that often, but when we do, the students always love it. Not only that, but they also readily remember the topics of debate, implying solid connections were made.

The Common Core State Standards Initiative has transformed our classrooms. It’s no longer enough to have students working independently and silently completing worksheets. Students are asked to question and interact with the material, keep track of their own thinking, and collaborate through written and spoken word.

 The best methods of classroom debate

  •  If you’re really seasoned you could do a full class debate, such as a four corner debate. A four corner debate requires students to show their position on a specific statement (strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree).
  • If you are just dipping your toes in the debate pool, you could try a popcorn debate where you ask a question and the student who wants to share raises his or her hand and expresses an opinion. Students continue to raise hands, expressing similar or different opinions, building momentum as each hand is raised. (Verbal recognition should always be given to the first brave soul.)
  • You could also post the debate question on the front board and have individual tables debate or discuss within small groups. (You may consider having a note-taker at each table to report their results at the end of the debate session.)
  • Another option is a change-opinion team debate that asks students to change sides and debate both sides of an argument.

The specific style of debate you choose may be best decided based on the type of students or class you are teaching. And if your class is timid or needs a little extra incentive, offer a small prize to the team that wins the debate.

Getting your class to speak academically and with passion to one another is not an easy task. I’ve found that it’s all about the debate questions. I’ve painstakingly gone through some questions I thought would surely be pot-stirrers, only to see them thicken the pot into non-interactive goo. To save you from the goo, I’ve outlined some tried and tested debate questions guaranteed to work.

 Debate questions that always get kids thinking, talking and sharing:

  1. Does success equal money, happiness, or freedom? You can only choose one.
  2. Agree or Disagree: War is sometimes necessary.
  3. Agree or Disagree: Mermaids exist.

Remember, it’s all about getting discussion started. You can always direct the debate to a highly targeted lesson once you get them talking.

Debate or discussion can be frightening at first, but extremely beneficial. Try it out!

 Your turn: Do you think debate is healthy or necessary in a classroom?  Why or why not?