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The Eclectic Teacher...

by Ginny Hoover

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Debates in the Classroom---A List of Ten!

With the world situations being as they are, a strategy that is quite effective to explore controversial subjects---debate.

Classroom debates need not be formal, but they need to follow some basic rules before they occur.

  1. Student needs to have a knowledge base of both pro and con positions. (Without this, the debate is useless---to argue without knowledge is fruitless.)
  2. Over-emotionalism is out of place.
  3. Respect for the individual is important---dispute the facts; donít attack the messenger.
  4. Classroom management must be at high level. Public cruel comments once said cannot be rescinded by an apology. The damage may be long lasting, depending on the target of the unkind remarks.
  5. Students need to learn to build a case---set the foundation, fill in the rest.
  6. Students need to be taught the difference between being open-minded as opposed to narrow-minded. They need to realize that people who are open-minded have greater opportunity to learn. They may not change their minds, but will better understand the opposition.
  7. It needs to be decided how the classroom debates will be managed from the point of view of debates. Will the pros or cons go first? Will the debate be informal with turn taking between the pros or cons? If the whole class participates, will students take turns, raise hands, or go with the flow?
  8. It is sometimes a valuable tool to have a command statement or word that indicates the debate has strayed or too many emotions are being displayed (i.e., "on topic please"). For younger students, this could be role played to help them understand procedure.
  9. When the debate nears the end, the sides should present a plea for change. Students should be able to define what it is they want changed, how they want it changed, and why they want it changed.
  10. If everyone genuinely wants to be pro or wants to be con, then debate is not the best strategy. Perhaps a discussion strategy should be used.

Ginny's Educational WebPages: http://www.geocities.com/ginnyks

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