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Using Debates with young people

Debates are often seen as a great tool for engaging students and livening up the classroom curriculum. Using debates in the classroom can hold enormous potential to build 21st century skills, they help students grasp essential critical thinking and presentation skills. Among the skills classroom debates can foster are abstract thinking, citizenship and etiquette, clarity, organisation, persuasion, public speaking, research, and teamwork and cooperation. And that's just the beginning! Debating strategies for the classroom; you may have your favourite tried and tested method for using debates in the classroom, if you do please share in the comments!

Our favourite strategy is the four corner debate.

Brief Description

four posters, each labelled in large letters with one of the following: Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree


four posters, each labelled in large letters with one of the following: Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree

  • listen to a statement on a controversial topic and decide if they strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree with the statement.

  • work in groups to record information in support of their position.

  • reconsider their stance in light of new information.

  • write a concise paragraph expressing their opinion about the statement.

Materials Needed

  • four posters, each labeled in large letters with one of the following: Strongly Agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree

  • What's the debate cards

  • writing paper and pencils

Lesson Plan

This simple and active strategy helps students focus their thinking about topics of debate as they prepare to write a well-supported paragraph stating their position. Before the Lesson

Create four posters/signs printed in large letters with the following labels, one label per sign:

  • Strongly Agree

  • Agree

  • Disagree

  • Strongly Disagree

Place each poster in a different corner of the classroom. each group of students feeds back their decision and the rationale for reaching that decision this is then open to debate with the class as a whole. Its important to have rules; here are our suggestions;

Debate Rules

No put downs. You must raise your hand if it's not your time to speak. Teams lose 1 point for each interruption. Teams lose 1 point for whispering while another speaker is talking. TIMES Opening statements for both sides = 3 minutes each Arguments for both sides = 3 minutes each Rebuttal conference = 1 minute Rebuttals = 2 minutes each Closing statements for both sides = 3 minutes each Time spent explaining the concept of debates and the rules is time well spent!

  1. Limit debate team size. In a classroom with 30 to 40 students, this may be difficult to do. Consider breaking up the children into work groups and hold multiple group debates at once. The maturity of the children, along with their willingness and ability to follow your directions, set the tone for the system you use.

  2. Teach how to debate. Young children are prone to make themselves heard by raising their voices. Older children may include personal insults. Teach each new class how to debate before actually using these teaching strategies in your classroom.

  3. Aim homework assignments at debate readiness. As students realise that the finer points of debating involve a good bit of strategy, use homework assignments to prepare debaters to know, understand and argue both sides of an issue.

  4. Model the separation of opinion from facts. Even young children can be very opinionated. Since the goal of this teaching method is active learning and critical thinking, it is vital that pupils learn how to differentiate gut-level opinions from fact-backed statements.

Your classroom most likely has children from various backgrounds. Since youngsters are notorious for repeating what they hear their parents say at home, it is not uncommon during a debate to face stereotyping, scapegoating, and overgeneralisation. It is your job to challenge unfounded statements that could be hurtful to other class members. At the same time, be prepared to do so diplomatically and kindly, with an eye on improving collaborative learning.

Enjoy your debating!

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