A debate is a discussion between two people or teams with opposing views defending their opinion. Formal debates began in ancient Greece when public assemblies were held in an effort to help people make decisions about important issues like war and the laws of their land. Following a debate, citizens would vote on the issue. Debating in classrooms and for school projects helps children develop critical-thinking skills, learn tolerance for opposing viewpoints and build their sense of personal expression and self-esteem. There are numerous topics for debate projects and teachers should ensure the debates are age-appropriate and not driven by a personal agenda. Children can debate everything from serious political issues to issues affecting their school and home-life.
Political or Historic Issues
Choose an issue from the newspaper that has yet to be resolved and allow children to debate current events. You can also time a classroom debate for election time. If elections have passed, have children debate whether the president or governor is doing a good job. Ask children to debate on the opposite side from how they would vote, just so they have a chance to understand the opposition's platform. Students can also debate historical issues like the Boston Tea Party and American Revolution, the Civil War and slavery, the civil rights movement, the existence and public funding of the Planned Parenthood organisation or FDR's New Deal and the Great Depression. Offer kids a chance to debate topics that are still in debate today, as well as issues with decidedly simple contemporary solutions. Debating subjects like slavery and civil rights gives children a chance to see how propaganda can distort public opinion and helps them understand how self-interest plays a role in determining a person's stance on an issue. Debating subjects relating to animal rights teaches kids to understand complex issues and helps them form their own opinions on important topics like animal testing, animals in entertainment and factory farming.
School and Local Issues
Children often feel more passionate about local issues and issues affecting their school. For an interesting debate project, discuss an issue kids currently face or offer them an alternative to how things are going currently. Kids can debate whether their class should have a field trip during the school year and where they should go. They can also debate wearing uniforms in school, whether they should be permitted to leave school premises during lunch, whether the school cafeteria should only serve healthy food or whether kids should be able to attend school online. For younger grades, classes can debate whether there should be homework each night or whether the school day should be longer or shorter.
Issues Important to Kids
In addition to education and school issues, kids have opinions about things affecting them at home. Younger children are likely to enjoy a debate about having a television in their bedroom, whether wearing a helmet when riding their bike should be required or whether they can use their allowance for whatever they want. Older children can debate the pros and cons of after-school jobs or how much social freedom they should have with their friends. Debate projects may be more successful if students are permitted to choose their own topic, but be sure there are students willing to argue the less popular point of view.
Trivial or Silly Issues
Kids sometimes feel passionately about issues that seem trivial to adults. Allowing kids to debate less important issues is a way to keep them interested in the debate and offers younger children a chance to engage in debate. While political issues, even local ones, are likely to bore young children, debating issues like whether television is better than books, if cats or dogs are better pets or if girls are better than boys will hold their interest. Older children can debate entertainment issues like whether a musical artist is talented or whether a television show has value. Debating is often a serious issue, but allowing kids to have silly debates still teaches communication skills and shows them those with opposing viewpoints can still be friends.