Every year I poll my students about what they want to explore and accomplish by the end of the year. We create a list of class “goals” I post on the board and keep up all year long. I find by giving them some input, they work harder and are more interested in what we do. This year, for the first time ever, my classes overwhelmingly voted for debate as a platform for learning. They wanted to research, talk about and take positions on topics that were important to their lives. Well, we just started navigating those waters…
I started with implementing Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week assignment to get them thinking and writing about current event topics. It started a little shaky as students really just wanted to blast their opinions rather than looking at the arguments put forth and commenting on them using source material as evidence. I think fiery opinions are the challenge with implementing debate- students are very opinionated, but up until this point have not been asked to find credible sources to back up those opinions. After some modeled annotation and writing, students began to find their footing and the analytical skills necessary to argue against or for a position using evidence. In addition to Gallagher’s AOW, I began each class with a TED Talk that sparked an arguable position. This was a particularly fruitful exercise as most of the topics were not ideas or events the students had thought about. Below is my list, but there are myriad talks that would be useful depending on your students.
Next up was to view “The Great Debaters,” not the full movie, but the pieces that showed preparation and presentation of debate with some journals about techniques observed in the movie. I found this movie to be invaluable in showing the students what true debate is and how to build a successful arguments utilizing different appeals. Following the first clip of the movie, I asked students to nominate their top five choices for classroom debate. The topics were similar to topics we had already discussed, but they also brought some new ones I had not introduced to them. Below is their list of top topics.
- Gun Control, Immigration Policy, The Paris Climate Agreement, Funding/Defunding Planned Parenthood & Birth Control, Required Standardized Testing, Gay Marriage Rights, Taking down Confederate Statues, Universal Basic Income, Death Penalty and Freedom of Speech/Right to Organize
Now comes the work of helping students understand how to deeply research their resolved positions and put together the foundation of good debate. I enlisted the aid of my librarian. We are currently compiling resources and an approach to helping students utilize the research to develop various appeals for their side of the debate. Stay tuned!