I have been in the business of competing and coaching speech and debate since 1995. My fellow teacher coaches would frequently discuss how wonderful it was that they were teaching debate in their classrooms. It was confusing to me because many of them taught Math, Science or Spanish. I accidentally stumbled upon this phenomenon one week overwhelmed with teaching and prepping my team for an upcoming competition simultaneously. Since many of my students were also competitors on the team, I decided to start adding debate activities to their classes not thinking much of it. To my surprise, it results in both debate and non-debate students becoming more actively engaged in the subject! I concluded that most kids want to get involved, have their voices heard and find out how to improve their debating skills. I decided to turn my classroom into a controlled, professional arena for topic discussion multiple times per week.
Summative assessment scores increase dramatically. Students with IEPs for cognitive concerns started to show sparks of higher-level thinking. All it took was allowing kids to speak up, evaluate effective evidence, and zealously advocate for a position. Not only were my students looking forward to coming to class, they were unconsciously meeting Common Core Language Arts standards for grades 9 and 10! Here are two of my most effective debate strategies.
Don’t confuse these with true or false statements. These are statements that have qualifier words from the assigned reading that include could, should, would, or ought. These auxiliary verbs are designed to ask students to examine a specific, textbook topic more philosophically. Here’s an example: The Industrial Revolution would have been successful without the Bessemer Process. The answer, depending how deeply students think, could go both ways. Regardless of whether they agree or disagree, I require that they cite and support their opinion with evidence in complete sentences. Students are then open to share their responses in class and others have the opportunity to respectfully refute. Each reading section has about 5-7 argument statements.
Unit Level Debate Cases
This is significantly more involved and requires a multiple-day process of modeling and immediate feedback. I recommend that you use this comprehensive measurement as a unit project or summative assessment. Here’s the process:
- Pair students with a partner
- Share with them a broad debate topic that is broad topically and open to both sides of debate. Example: Resolved: The benefits of 19th Century Imperialism outweigh the harms.
- Provide students with a collection of primary documents. Half of the documents should represent either side.
- Have students read, interpret, analyze, connect to outside information and determine whether it’s an affirmative or negative leaning document (the best documents can go either way based on interpretation)
- Brainstorm at most three points of analysis (main ideas) that match with the evidence
- Have one partner write the affirmative and the other write the negative
- Have partners peer review each case and offer corrections to flaws that the opposition may point out (remember the partners are experts on the opposing side)
- Hold a debate round or simply collect the finished product for a grade