How to Teach Debate to Children

Updated April 17, 2017

A debate is an interactive way to teach children of all ages about language skills. It provides a forum for children to exchange ideas, listen to others, communicate effectively and engage with one another. Researcher Daniel Kriegar explains that debate skills improve children's writing and reading abilities as they learn to take a more critical approach to their work. Teach debate to children in a way that limits unnecessary confrontation and encourages participation.

Conduct an introduction to debate lesson. Explain exactly how a debate is set up, what the purpose is and how it operates. Provide a handout describing the meaning of basic terms such as resolution (the proposed debate subject), affirmative team (agrees with resolution), negative team (opposes resolution), judges (moderate and decide the outcome of the debate) and rebuttal (explanation of opposing views).

Provide an example of a debate resolution to the children. Make it a simple, relevant and arguable subject. For example, "'X Factor' is a good television program." Explain that if this was a resolution, both teams in the debate would need to provide reasons for supporting or opposing it. Suggest ways of stating opinion, such as, "I believe that ... because ... " or, "I think that ... because ... "

Ask the children to practice forming valid opinions and arguments. Give them a list of resolutions. Get them to write down their opinion next to it. For example, if the first resolution was "It is better to be married than single," ask the children to write down why they agree or disagree with it.

Explain the importance of supporting an opinion in a debate. This means giving evidence to make your opinion valuable. This could be a statistic from an official resource or historical fact. Assign the children homework by asking them to select a resolution off the practice list and find evidence to support their opinion. It could be an expert opinion, personal experience or common sense.

Hold a debate between the children so they can practice the skills they have learnt. Give them the resolution a week in advance and divide them into teams. Ask the children to research the subject, write an argument backed with evidence and a list of questions for the opposing team.

Perform the debate. Act as judge so you can moderate, guide and help the debate as it flows. Before you begin, explain that each side can propose their argument and answer questions from the other team.

Allow the children freedom to discuss the topic freely after the official speeches have been made. Offer advice throughout this process, such as, do not talk over one another, back up your opinion with evidence, do not shout or bully others into what you believe, listen and write down constructive questions to ask others as the debate continues.

Invite the children to vote at the end of the debate. Ask them whose evidence and arguments were more valid. You can do this in secret or by simply asking them to hold their hands up.


Give feedback to each team after the final debate. Tell them the strengths and weaknesses in their arguments. Hold a class debate once a month. Select a panel of judges each month to moderate the debate. This will teach the children how to handle arguments and help them learn more about how to debate properly.

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About the Author

Verity Jones is an English literature graduate who has been writing for over five years. Her work has been featured in local publications, national parenting magazines and online portals such as You and Your Family, and Mum Plus One. Jones holds a qualification in interior design.