What is Debating?

Debating is a structured contest of argumentation in which two opposing individuals or teams defend and attack a given proposition. The procedure is bound by rules that vary based on location and participants. The process is adjudicated and a winner is declared. Debating is a foundational aspect of a democratic society and thus reflects the values of Canadians.

What is its purpose?

The intent of the strategy is to engage learners in a combination of activities that cause them to interact with the curriculum. Debate forces the participants to consider not only the facts of a situation but the implications as well. Participants think critically and strategically about both their own and their opponent’s position. The competitive aspects encourage engagement and a commitment to a position.

Debates require students to engage in research, encourage the development of listening and oratory skills, create an environment where students must think critically, and provide a method for teachers to assess the quality of learning of the students. Debates also provide an opportunity for peer involvement in evaluation.

Debating as an activity is most effectively used in grades from middle years on up.

How do I do it?

Procedural rules exist for debating. They vary by region and reflect parliamentary procedure to some degree. For example, the procedures followed in Great Britain vary slightly from those observed in the United States. Guidelines are quite rigid when engaged in competition but more flexibility exists within a classroom. See the teacher resources section on this page for links to tutorials and printable materials.

Begin by familiarizing the students with the concept of debating. Older students will no doubt be somewhat familiar with the practice. Discuss with them the idea of arguing differences of opinion. Suggest to them that debating is simply a structured way to argue ones position. Students may then be introduced to the vocabulary of debating. Terms such as proposition, rebuttal, and thesis are introduced. A list of important terms is available in the teacher resource section. Also included is a tutorial on the debating process.

How can I adapt it?

Debating can be employed as an instructional strategy wherever the circumstances are open to opposing points of view. Topic options are endless and can be garnered in any course of study. Examples include arguing the effectiveness of government monetary policy in an economics class; the use of product placement for a media studies class; Chinese immigration policy in a history class; or the ethics of stem cell research for a biology class. See the teacher resources for suggestions.

Debating as instructional strategy is not as involved as the teaching of debating per se. Students are given the necessary background to employ the technique without devoting so much time that opportunity to focus on the relevant issues is lost.

Assessment and Evaluation

The nature of the debating process sets up a fairly clear group of criteria for evaluation. Debates may be used as assessment tools or be the summative activity in course of study. Evidence of research, understanding of procedures and indication of critical thinking are aspects for evaluation. Dunbar suggests that the adjudicator (the teacher) can assess six categories. These are: analysis, reasoning, evidence, organization, refutation, and delivery. A team may lose the debate but still have been very successful in their efforts.

Among the teacher resources are rubrics for evaluating a student’s success.

Teacher Resources

Follow this link to a resource page where you will find a group of materials for use in the classroom. These materials include rubrics, a short tutorial and a student guide.

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