Engaging students in discussion and debate encourages students to create their own understanding of the content and connect it to their experiences. Learning is improved when students are encouraged to form opinions and develop their own ideas about the content. By including discussion and debate-style activities in your classes, you are encouraging students to think about the connect more deeply and gain broader insight through the shared ideas and different perspectives of others.
The effectiveness of an in-class discussion or debate relies heavily upon the level of planning undertaken before class. Students may feel uncomfortable disagreeing publicly, so try begin with generic discussions to allow students to build confidence. Discuss different roles and encourage students to take on moderator role. When planning your discussions, consider:
What content do you want students to focus on?
- What questions can you ask to inspire a rigorous conversation or debate?
- Will students need time to prepare in advance?
- Will students need guidance with how to ask probing questions?
In-class discussion examples:
- A mid-point summary or reflection could be provided by a student, for 1 minute, part way through a discussion. This student could then pose a question to continue the discussion or move it in another direction.
- Find a short reading or article that offers a controversial perspective. Ask students to read prior to class or quickly at the commencement of the activity. Prepare some questions to help open the conversation.
- Provide a case-study or scenario for students to read. Create roles or characters that each look at the scenario from a different perspective. Have students form small groups and assign each group a character. Have students respond to the whole class, showing the scenario from the position of their character. As a class, discuss the different points-of-view and see if the class can find a resolution. Consider assigning some students the role of discussion mediators, who propose compromises and help the class to identify key points and common ground.
In-class debate examples:
Class debates often work best in small teams.
- One team arguing for and another team arguing against the issue. The remaining students will be the non-debating audience.
- Allow the teams time to work together prior to the debate, so that they can determine arguments for or against a given topic.
- Each member of the team is given the opportunity to present one argument on behalf of their team.
- Arguments should be timed, approximately 3-5 minutes per person.
- Allow time for rebuttals and responses, approximately 1 per person.
- Include the class in creating a clear set of rules, timings and guidelines for the debate. Non-debating students should work together to create guidelines for how the debate will be judged, evaluated and how feedback will be provided
In-class discussion links: