Watch Ulrich Baer's
TeachTalk, and learn a
strategy for debates in
the classroom.

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  • foster active engagement, student-centered
    learning, and peer instruction
  • developing debate topics
  • arranging space (in a classroom or online) for the debate
  • developing post-debate discussion topics/activities
Activity Time Entire class session

pairs, groups


Instructors and students might find it interesting when the
teams debate a topic twice, once on each side of a topic,
encouraging students not only to consider opposing views,
but to be able to strategize and re-strategize as a team
after hearing one side of the argument.

Assessment high-stakes, formative/summative

For debates, students break out into teams that will debate in a formalized structure (with a set format, rules, time) two opposing positions of a topic. The instructor will come up with the debate topic and opposing positions prior to the debate, and the teams will need to prepare their key arguments. This friendly competition must touch back on course themes, and students must base their arguments on course materials as well as their own research in order to be effective. After the debate, the instructor should follow up with a discussion or activity that reflects on the debate, the debate’s result, the reason behind the result, and the relationship between the debate and the course’s related content.

By considering opposing views, students will be encouraged to learn about the complexity of issues. Students will be asked to demonstrate skills in research, public speaking, and presentation. And, because they will not be able to predict everything the opposing team will say, the will need to demonstrate their ability to adapt.

Instructors might use debates in both small and large classrooms (both face-to-face and online); however, larger classes might need to break into smaller debates groups in order for all students to participate (which may bring up space considerations if in a physical classroom). Debates are most useful in the social sciences and humanities, but may be applicable to all disciplines.