What is it?

A debate is an instructional approach used to encourage discussion between two or more people who are positioned on opposite sides of an issue or topic. Generally, a classroom debate will be structured similar to a formal debate with specific rules and procedures participants must follow to ensure the debate stays on topic. Students on either side of a debate do not have to agree with their position, but it is still a valuable learning opportunity that requires research, information gathering and the development of reasoned arguments.

Purpose: Within the classroom, debating can be an effective way to encourage students to engage, analyze and develop critical thinking, as well as public speaking skills. These skills are essential for disciplines such as politics and law, but the debate process can be useful for any discipline where decisions or choices need to be defended. Debates can be an effective way to incorporate more participation in the classroom and at the same time provide students with valuable life skills.

Skills Promoted

  • Communications
  • Critical thinking
  • Argumentative skills
  • Research

Who's using it?

SALTISE community members who use this strategy and are willing to share advice and/or resources.

Institution Discipline Instructor Classroom settings

McGill University

Level: University

Engineering

Lawrence R. Chen

Lecture Room

Classroom size: 200

View resources used

Dawson College

Level: College

Biology

Daniel Goldsmith

Lecture Room/Active Learning Classroom

Classroom size: 30-40

View resources used

Institution

McGill University

Level: University

Dawson College

Level: College

Discipline

Engineering

Biology

Instructor

Lawrence R. Chen

Daniel Goldsmith

Classroom settings

Lecture Room

Classroom size: 200

View resources used

Lecture Room/Active Learning Classroom

Classroom size: 30-40

View resources used

Why use it?

Benefits
Challenges
Benefits

Debates are an engaging way of teaching material, allowing students to evaluate facts for themselves. It involves individual and group work, which ensures that students practice working alone and with peers. It is also an interesting alternative to a written paper because in addition to knowing the content, the students also have to present their arguments and hear from others. Topics that can be covered in a debate are vast.

Challenges

In a large class, some students continue talking through the debates, which can be hard on the students who are nervous about public speaking. Some students may not want to participate in the debate in terms of presenting.

Ready to try it out?

STEP 1: Instructor provides students with a debate topic/ resolution/ proposition, along with rules, guidelines and/or procedures for the two roles assigned:(1) debate team; (2) audience (peer assessors).

NOTE: relevant content may be presented prior to this strategy; OR the research in preparation may be part of the instructional plan.

STEP 2: Instructor divides students into teams (small groups)to argue the different perspectives, either (1) supporting or (2) refuting the resolution/proposition.

OPTION: class can be divided into multiple teams to argue the same topic of different topics.

STEP 3: In their assigned teams, students research the selected topic, identifying arguments/claims and relevant evidence to prepare an appropriate argumentation using given guidelines.

STEP 4: Instructor provides non-presenting students with rubric or model for evaluating the arguments.

OPTION: students are guided though a process of developing a rubric.

STEP 5: In assigned team students present their prepared statements or materials.

STEP 6: Individually, non-presenting students evaluate the quality of the arguments based on the rubric criteria.

OPTION: instructors might select a ‘winner’ by asking the class to vote on the quality of the arguments.

STEP 7: Instructor conducts a debriefing of the process ad the arguments presented.

Download Flowchart

Helpful resources

References

Moeller, T. G. (1985). Using classroom debates in teaching Developmental Psychology. Teaching of Psychology, Taylor & Francis..

Kennedy, R. (2007). In-class debates: Fertile ground for active learning and the cultivation of critical thinking and oral communication skills. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

Camp, J. M. and Schnader, A. L. (2010). Using debate to enhance critical thinking in the accounting classroom: The Sarbanes-Oxley Act and US tax policy. Issues in Accounting Education (American Accounting Association)..

Winsted, K. F. (2010). Marketing debates: In the classroom and online. Marketing Education Review, Taylor & Francis.

Lustigová, L. (2011). Speak your mind: Simplified debates as a learning tool at the university level. Journal on Efficiency and Responsibility in Education and Science.

Hodgkinson-Williams, C. and Mostert, M. (2005). Online debating to encourage student participation in online learning environments: A qualitative case study at a South African university. International Journal of Education and Development.

Video

Julia Galindo on Debates – Harvard University, Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning

TO LEARN MORE

For more resources go to Articles and Books