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The Basics of Debating

The basics of debating

Debate in any form is simply two opposing viewpoints discussed in a specific manner. Within this parameter, the number of participants can range from two people to the entire class. A standard debate occurs in groups of four, but the concept of debate can be altered and divided into as many groups as needed for your classroom. 

All debate consists of two sides. The side in favor of the topic is called the Proposition. The side that disagrees with the topic is the Opposition. The topic itself is called the resolution. The debate comes to life through an alternating structure. Because debate is the comparison of ideas, the two sides alternate who speaks. The Proposition usually speaks first to introduce the topic and explain why it is worth supporting. After the Proposition is finished, the Opposition has a chance to present conflicting arguments. This structure remains true in all forms of classroom debate.

Guiding principles in teaching debate

  1. The teacher does not have to hear and evaluate everything.
  2. In any activity, each student must have a specific duty.
  3. For any activity, consider the time allotted. When starting out give more time for thinking, less time for speaking. 
  4. Practice the same skill in multiple ways
  5. When picking topics to discuss make it simple, and fair for both sides

Some terms you should know

Motion: the thing you will be debating about

This House: the person/group who would act or implement the motion. For example the Canadian government, or Western Liberal Democracies

Proposition: The team supporting the motion

Opposition: The team against the motion

Construction: arguments for or “positive” material for a team’s case

Deconstruction: Also called refutation or clash- the arguments against or “negative” material brought against a team by their opponents

Debate is a flexible tool for the classroom. The informal method of debate allows teachers to use debate to enrich class discussions. Students practice critiquing other arguments and building their own in the moment. Formal debates between students take more time to teach in terms of the set up, but allow students to focus on their research and writing skills. In the next section, we walk through the methods for using informal and formal debate in the classroom, along with examples and lesson plans.

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