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Debating in the classroom

26 Apr

A recent presentation that I made at school has got me thinking about ways to incorporate interactive debating-style activities in the classroom.  Below are the ideas that are going through my head at the moment:

  1. A traditional debate.  Here, students are provided with a high modality statement relevant to what is being studied, divided into teams, and asked to research the topic.  One team argues in favour of the proposition, the other against it.  This could be an interesting mode of formative assessment, perhaps in the early stages of an AOS unit.  After building the field, a debate could be used to test students’ knowledge of the core concept.  Potentially, this activity could be revisited at the end of the unit in order to ascertain how well students can apply their knowledge of texts studied to ‘prove’ viewpoints about the focus concept.  I think this activity would work particularly well in a strong Year 10 class, or a strong Years 11 or 12 Advanced English class.
  2. A stakeholder debate.  As in a traditional debate, students are provided with a high modality statement relevant to what is being studied in class.  However, instead of attacking the statement from TWO sides, the statement can be engaged with from the perspectives of relevant stakeholders.  Each stakeholder is allocated time to present his or her opinion.  After all key opinions have been aired, each stakeholder receives another opportunity to speak.  At this point, s/he must engage with the ideas and allegations made by other stakeholders.  For stronger classes, there is also an opportunity for stakeholders (or an audience) to ask each other questions to clarify viewpoints.  This type of activity would work particularly well in a junior class (years 7, 8 or 9) where the topic covered relates to issues of social or community importance.
  3. Ping Pong Debate.  In this debate, ideas bounce around the room like a ping pong ball does during a game.  Here, the teacher throws a potentially controversial statement to the class.  The first student standing responds to that statement, either endorsing it or refuting it.  Once that student’s allocated time expires, the next student standing gets an opportunity to respond.  This time, the student can extend the response of the previous speaker or make a counter-claim.  When I use this activity in my class, I encourage students to structure their responses using the PEEL format (Point, Example, Explanation, Link).  If I were doing this activity with weaker classes, I would write the acronym on the board and appoint a student as ‘Captain PEEL’, tasking him/her with redirecting the speaker to address any missed elements.  This debate works well as part of a building the field activity when learning about a new concept.  It can also work well at the end of a unit if students are also required to utilise their knowledge of a text studied in their responses.  My stronger Years 9 and 10 classes in the past have previously enjoyed this activity immensely.
  4. Room for debate.   In this debate, students are required to move around the class room.  The teacher provides a topic for discussion.   Upon first hearing the topic, students have to move to one of three signs which have been posted around the room: agree, disagree, not sure.  The teacher then asks one student who agrees with the statement to provide a reason for his/her position.  Encourage students to use the PEEL structure when formulating their response.  As they listen to the student’s argument, students who are convinced can leave their positions and move to the ‘agree’ group.  Repeat, this time allowing a student in the ‘disagree’ group to speak.  Then, a student in the ‘not sure’ group has the opportunity to ask a question, one student from each of the ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’ groups must respond to that question.  The ‘not sure’ student must then move to the group whose answer was most convincing.  The aim of the game is to stop students from ‘fence sitting’ and encourage them to commit to a position.
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REVIEW: ‘The First Third’

26 Mar

Until recently, I had not heard of Will Kostakis.  In fact, my decision to read his novel The First Third was an ‘anti-boycott’, a response to a much publicised decision by a school to revoke an invitation for Kostakis to address their students in light of the coming out announcement made by Kostakis on his blog.  To me, the school’s decision made little sense.  After all, Kostakis was to address students about his novel not his private life.

I am very glad I was prompted to purchase and read The First Third because it is a fantastic book!  The novel is a coming of age text, following the experiences of Billy as he navigates the complexities of school, love, family and friendship.

In this text, Kostakis does a fantastic job of representing the diversity and complexity of our worlds: for example, Billy and his family are Greek, Billy’s best friend Lucas is gay and has cerebral palsy, and Billy’s mother is a single mum.  The text also features an opinionated grandmother, and a family divided by interests and distance. To me, this world seems far more ‘real’ than some of the cookie-cutter type families represented in YA fiction and, I suspect, will thus resonate better with my students.

Room for Debate

20 Jan

A colleague pointed me to the ‘Room for Debate‘ columns in the New York Times and I am completely taken by the concept.  I love the idea of picking a topical issue, having source material from different perspectives, and then inviting students to weigh in with their own views.  Not only would this be a valuable activity when I take on my new debating team later this year, but it will be an interesting way of building the field for concept and issues studies in the English classroom.

Newsworthy debating topics

20 Nov

After discussing some debating topics with my students today, I noticed that a number of them have limited general knowledge about what is happening in their community, state and country.  This lack of general knowledge hampers their ability to provide relevant examples and counterexamples in debates.

In order to get them reading the newspaper and taking notice of what is happening in the world, I want to set them a challenge to read the paper, find an issue that interests them, write a debating topic, and then dot point out the key ideas that should be raised by each team in order to make their cases.  If each student does this for one issue, and then they pool their resources, everyone should get a window into key issues/areas of relevance.

Debating the big issues

19 Nov

My debaters have been in training for an inter-school competition for a few weeks now.  As part of their training, we have been discussing big issues and how to tackle them.

Some of the issues that we have tackled include: socio-economic status of students in schools, requirement to work in Australia for a period of time if graduating from an Australian tertiary education provider, the merits of studying Shakespeare, and the appropriateness of gender-specific advertising of toys.

Inspired by the news, below are some further topics that might be worthwhile discussing:

  • That free wifi should be made available in all major cities (article)
  • That all visitors to Australia should be charged $15 to enter the country (article)
  • That all major cities in Australia should be bicycle friendly (article)
  • That non-commercial television and radio stations should be treated the same as their commercial counterparts (article)
  • That legalizing marijuana is the socially responsible thing to do (article)
  • That reality TV is an effective way of changing social attitudes (article)
  • That the media should write about policy not politicians (article)

If you have any other suggestions, please post them in the comments box!

‘Totally like whatever, you know’

17 Aug

When we ask students to deliver speeches we grade them on both manner and matter.  Matter, of course, refers to subject matter.  Manner is about presentation.

This spoken word poem by Taylor Mali is a great way to introduce students to the idea of speaking with conviction.

A sporting chance

11 May

My students won their first debate!  It is now time to prepare for their second.  The topic is sport.  This is problematic as my students have minimal sporting knowledge, and I have none.

In light of this, our first job is to research.  Each student can bring in an article and discuss it.  That way, we can share knowledge.

Our second job is to practice generating arguments.  Below is a list of suggested topics:

  • That betting on sporting matches should not be allowed.
  • That an athlete’s proven drug use should result in their permanent exclusion from sporting competition.
  • That sportspeople accused of illegal conduct should be suspended from competition until a verdict of not guilty is handed down.
  • That Australia overemphasises the importance of sport.
  • That sportspeople are good role models.
  •  That morality clauses should be standard in the contracts of all professional sportspeople.

 

Seeing both sides of an argument

11 Mar

I have recently been appointed as Year 10 debate coach.  As such, I am on the lookout for activities that will help students to critically engage with current issues and to consider both sides of an argument.  One good resource that I have found is Debate.org.  This website allows the public to set and participate in debates online.

Initially, I hope to have my students read and engage with that content.  Over time, I would like to see them participate by either responding to debates or creating their own topics.