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Debate as a Tool for Learning

Debate and the curriculum 

In the renewed curricula, debate skills begin in grade 5 and go to grade 12. Debate opportunities with SEDA support the same ages, in a variety of categories based on both age and experience with debate. Debate is an essential learning strategy in core curriculum. 

Lifelong learning

Lifelong learners are curious, thoughtful, and skillful when finding, using, and integrating new skills and ideas. Debate teaches the skills necessary to continue to learn effectively beyond formal school including the ability to pose complex questions for inquiry, research skills, effective listening and note taking, critical thinking, and the conceptualizing of diverse ideas around complex themes. Debaters are the knowledge seekers in the classroom. 

Sense of self, community, and place

A sense of self, community, and place is constructed when students learn about themselves, others, and their world. Debate focuses specifically on resolutions or topics that communities are undecided on but see as critical, and students are required to speak for both sides. Through this process, students become much more deeply engaged in understanding their own ideas and the ideas of others around them through examples, routinely questioning the relationships between society, place, and individuals as related to complex topics. Debaters love to consider many factors when considering the best decision, and they draw from and grow a deep knowledge of their communities and place. 

Engaged citizens

Engaged citizens care about their communities, nation, and world, and actively shape it through direct participation. It is hard to say if debate makes you engaged or engagement makes you a debater, but debaters routinely become societal leaders in shaping common law, creating laws, advocating for social policy, and participating in the arts and volunteer communities. In school, they are the most involved students, finding themselves in diverse activities, exhibiting high levels of academic success, and using those skills in the service of others.


Strong thinkers have an excellent knowledge base, think critically about what they are told, and compose valuable, well-reasoned arguments. Debate is specifically designed to teach skills related to strong critical thinking and to support students in rendering informed judgments. Debaters practice finding common ways we think about and critique things, recognizing assumptions and fallacies, and responding to them appropriately. The skills debaters learn transfer easily- they are often the same students who write brilliant essays and win top science competitions.

Identity and interdependence

To act autonomously in an interdependent world, you need a complex understanding of how everything relates. The natural environment of social, and cultural expectations, and the interactions between different types of individuals from the content basis of all debate topics. Over time, debaters develop deep understanding of the patterns and connections that shape our world. This allows them to create complex reasoning to construct and deconstruct main arguments and themes. As a result, when debaters encounter a new idea they can quickly contextualize it within patterns related to both their own thinking and other opposing or complementary ways of considering ideas and actions.


Speaking and listening are two skills that debaters quickly develop in a way that exceeds their intellectual peers. They are able to find, read, listen to, or view information, take notes on the most important ideas, and find the key assumptions or key and supporting ideas. Within minutes, they can easily reorganize those ideas purposefully, the present them in compelling speeches. Debaters can speak easily without referring to notes while using compelling language and summarizing or refuting. Debate supports above grade level speaking and listening skills. 

Social responsibility

Debate is focused on topics related to how we care for those around us and what are our most pressing needs as a society. Debaters are explicitly taught to think about which groups of people are actors that can address social and societal issues, and many engage in a wide variety of volunteer activities designed to make their schools and communities better places. Because debate topics often focus on pressing social issues, debaters become vocal advocates for greater social responsibility.

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