A Debatable Debate

The structured debate you've always wanted to try.

The Problem

We've all wanted to use debate in our class and why shouldn't we? It allows for classroom discussion and a quick write can easily be added. However, we tend to shy away from debates because it can be a nightmare once put into practice. But George Washington did not give up on crossing the Delaware because it would be a tad chilly. With that in mind, we work out the kinks and provide a structured layout with roles, rules and regulations for students to follow.


The beauty of this debate is its flexibility. Perhaps you are covering a subject such as the Industrial Revolution and you'd like the students to be familiar with the pros and cons. Maybe you are introducing a new topic such as globalization, global warming, etc. Either scenario can use this form of debate. We'll use 'Tablets vs Textbooks' with the question, "Should Tables Replace Textbooks in K-12 Schools?"

The Debate

1. Students need to be divided in half, facing each other with each half in two rows (See Pic).

2. Give the subject of the debate with a question framing the debate. Again our subject is 'tablet vs textbook' in education with the question, "Should Tables Replace Textbooks in K-12 Schools?"

3. Give the students a 5-10 minutes to look over their notes or if you are using this as an introduction you may want to direct the students to a specific source such as http://tablets-textbooks.procon.org/.

4. Then assign each side either pro or con. (In our case yes or no).

5. Instruct the students on the process and rules as follows:

  1. One side, row 1 will go first. Each person will make a statement supporting their side. (I let the opposing side take notes and have their iPad open but no one is allowed to have their iPad's open.)
  2. Only the person holding "Rafiki's Stick" may speak. When he/she is finished they will pass "Rafiki's Stick". (After everyone has a turn any person in the row can ask for Rafiki's stick to add to the conversation.)
  3. Then the other side, row 1 will take their turn. This ends the turn for the front rows.
  4. At this point I let the back rows get organized for their rebuttal.
  5. Then we go back to the original side and Row 2 will rebuttal what was said by the other side's first row. Same rules with Rafiki's stick. They must rebuttal and rebuttal only, not bringing any new evidence.
  6. Then we go to the final back row who will rebuttal the other side.
  7. All this is confusing but makes sense once you see it in action .


You can easily add a writing task. I used a note card at the beginning of class and asked them to write their opinion. Then at the end of class flip the note card over and write if they did or did not change their mind. If they did, why? If they didn't, what evidence reinforced their opinion?