Conducting a classroom debate is a fantastic way to get students to engage with the topic of the class while also developing their speaking skills, listening skills, and critical thinking skills. However, knowing how to conduct a classroom debate successfully and getting students to actively participate can be challenging. Debates often require students to discuss controversial debate topics which can lead to heated discussions and disagreements, and so taking part in a classroom debate can be quite intimidating for students.
To help you successfully conduct a classroom debate so that your students get the most benefit, we put together this list of 5 useful tips for conducting a classroom debate.
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Conducting A Classroom Debate
1. Choose An Appropriate Debate Topic
One of the most important things to consider when preparing a class debate is to choose an appropriate debate topic. If a particular topic is too difficult or complex, or something which students cannot relate to, the class debate will likely fail. The best debate topics are those that students have an interest in and can easily relate to. Choosing a good debate topic will enable students to activitely and passionately take part in the classroom debate. Need ideas for your classroom debate topic? Check out our list of funny debate topics and controversial debate topics.
2. Introduce The Key Issues And Vocabulary
Once the debate topic has been chosen, introduce the topic, key issues, and any vocabulary they may need to discuss the topic. When students hear the topic of the debate, they may not initially understand why that particular issue is debatable. Before asking students to research and prepare their arguments, it’s important to present both sides of the debate or elicit them from students. If English is not the students’ first language, it is also important to provide them with relevant vocabulary so they can confidently express their opinions.
3. Choose The Classroom Debate Format
There are several different debate formats, and choosing an appropriate format for your classroom debate is essential. The particular format you choose will depend on the age and level of your students and whether or not it is a competitive debate or simply a classroom debate to get students thinking and talking about a particular issue. For English language classes, often a simplified debate format is the best way to facilitate discussion without the need for students to grasp complicated debate rules. A common simplified debate format is as follows:
- Introduce the topic of the debate.
- Divide students into two groups. One for and one against (or allow them to choose their own group).
- Give students time to research and prepare their arguments.
- For group presents their position (5 minutes).
- Against group rebuttal (3 minutes).
- Against group presents their position (5 minutes).
- For group rebuttal.
- Both groups question each other.
- Closing statements.
- Judgement, either by the teacher or by students.
4. Set The Classroom Debate Rules
Setting the rules for the debate is essential to make the classroom debate run smoothly. It’s not easy for students to stand up in front of the class and express their opinions and have others disagree and judge what they say. This is even more true for students whose first language is not English and who may be worried about making a mistake when speaking English.
Some good classroom debate rules are:
- Speak politely to other students and do not raise your voice.
- Do not interrupt other students when they are speaking.
- Respect everyone’s opinion. No idea is a stupid idea.
- Keep to your allotted time.
- Be open minded.
5. Make Sure The Classroom Debate Is Fair
If students feel that one person or team in the classroom debate was treated differently than the others, they are likely to feel upset and that the classroom debate wasn’t fair. Here are some things you can do to make sure the classroom debate is fair.
Keep Track Of Time
Keeping time is essential in a classroom debate so that each team gets the same chance to argue for their position. Once you decide the time that students get to research, prepare, and present their arguments, inform students of these times and stick to them. A great way to do this is to use a classroom timer like this one.
Debate topics are often controversial and you will likely have your own opinions about the particular topic. However, it is important for teachers to be impartial when conducting a classroom debate. A teacher’s role in a classroom debate is that of a facilitator, to enable students to express their opinions and to ensure everyone’s voice is heard. By being impartial, it helps to ensure that the debate is fair and judged on the merits of the students’ arguments.
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