doing debates

Two teacher posts within days of each other!?  I know this is not usually my style but David and I are eating left-overs right now so blogging about that is a little lacking.  Skye is coming over tomorrow for a new dish and should it be a yummy one, you can expect to hear about it soon.  Now back to the teaching post….

The history department is notorious for hosting debates in class.  Eleventh graders are pretty adept at them. Needing little prompting, they research, read, script, argue, counter-argue, and question. Two days later they are prepared to engage in a lively, researched, and thorough undertaking. Do they get bogged down in one cycling argument?  Yes, from time to time, they need to be reminded to move along, advance the debate. Yet, debates are an interesting way for the students to demonstrate their understanding of a topic by having to demonstrate the mental flexibility debates necessitate.

Freshman debates look and feel completely different.  Yesterday, in the middle of the debate on who was justified in fighting the French and Indian War, a student interrupts and asks, “Wait, what are we discussing? What is this debate about?”  Ah….time to stop the debate immediately, back pedal, and start from zero.  This happens often in ninth grade.  Two steps forward and one step back.

Loving lists, this class decided to make one to help them organize, focus, and target their debate topic and materials.

Things to do for a debate (according to my freshmen):

  1. Research:  What is the debate question asking you in your own words? Check with your team that they agree.  Research your topic.  Find concrete evidence and examples that support your argument.
  2. Offense: The best offensive is a strong defensive.  Research the opposition’s points and craft counter-arguments and questions.
  3. Logic: Use logic to have your points build off of one another… establish a “flow” of ideas and talking points.
  4. Don’t get personal: Try to avoid “I statements” if the debate is not a personal one, i.e. if you are debating about different sides of the American Revolution try to remember to be an objective historian.
  5. Stay focused: Stick to the topic. Get your points out and if you notice the conversation looping around and around the same point prepare a transition, “That is a good point, but I would like to raise a new one….”
  6. Listen: When you are not talking, don’t interrupt, and listen to what the opposition is saying so you are able to address them directly, thoughtfully, and well.
  7. Debates are most often lost rather an won: Ahh…I love this point and often write this on the board prior to a debate.
  8. Be respectful to your teammates and the opposition: no eye rolling and watch the body language.
  9. Tweak your argument in the debate as your process through the materials and answer counter-arguments….don’t just totally switch arguments in the middle….rather finesse it!
  10. Have some fun, laugh a little, keep it light.  Debates should be enjoyable, refreshing, and an opportunity for you to showcase all of your pre-planning.

Using their homemade debate guide, I grade this one and look forward to the next debate…and to their debates in the eleventh grade most of all.

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