Debates provide excellent classroom learning opportunities. They help students learn how to think critically, express viewpoints rationally and reflect upon the views they hold. Because some students might first find debates to be dry or difficult, some teachers introduce them to the concept with games. Along with building debating skills, debate games can prepare students for the debate format, break any undesirable debating patterns students have fallen into and help shy pupils open up in front of their peers.
A quick game of rebuttal tennis will give students an opportunity to practice making rebuttals and thinking quickly. This game is simple and requires little advance preparation beyond compiling a list of topics. To begin, split the students into pairs and have each pair sit facing each other. One partner makes a statement related to a debate topic, such as “assisted suicide is unacceptable in all cases,” and the other must quickly offer a rebuttal. The original student then rebuts this statement, and the two continue back and forth. Set a time limit for each rebuttal, perhaps 15 seconds to a minute. The student who cannot think of a rebuttal loses the round. Ask the students to play a predetermined odd number of rounds so that each pair has an overall winner.
Four corners gets students up and out of their seats, which helps break classroom monotony and forces all students, even the shy ones, to choose a side. Before playing, place one sign in each of the four corners of the classroom: strongly agree, agree, disagree and strongly disagree. Inform students that they will listen to statements, then move to the corner of the room that matches their viewpoint.
Choose statements that offer room for discussion and have no easy answers, such as “It’s OK to take one life to save five.” Read the first statement and ask students to move. Once they’ve all chosen a side, ask for students from each corner to justify their choices. Give students in other corners the chance to make rebuttals and change corners if they wish. Spend a predetermined amount of time on each statement, perhaps five or 10 minutes, then repeat the exercise with another statement.
Can You Distract Me?
Expressing arguments in front of peers can make students nervous and easily flustered, but a few rounds of "Can You Distract Me?" will boost their confidence and help them overcome such anxiety. Divide the class into groups of three. One student from each group reads from a text, while the other two try to break his composure. They can do this by whispering, making funny faces, snapping their fingers or moving around. When the first student finishes reading, the next student in the group reads, and then the third. Once they’ve finished in the group, consider breaking everyone into larger groups or asking for volunteers to read in front of the whole class. Declare a few “composure winners,” either by teacher’s choice or by vote.
Fairy Tale Discussions
Borrowing topics from fairy tales allows students to relate to the debate format and substance. To begin, either read or discuss a story to elicit the predetermined debate question; if reading “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” for example, the question might be, “Was it OK for Goldilocks to enter the three bears’ house?” Once students identify the question, ask them to plan their arguments and rebuttals using a graphic debate organizer or a sheet of paper with two columns. Next, lead the class in discussion, allowing students plenty of chances to contribute their ideas. Consider assigning a follow-up writing activity.