How to Do Classroom Debates

Updated March 23, 2017

Classroom debates are effective techniques that enable teachers to route children's natural tendency to argue and challenge to a positive learning channel. Children learn to research, analyse, understand and converse through debates. By supporting or refuting an opinion, they learn to take a stand. Questioning promotes exploration and clarification. Children also learn people skills when they work as a team for the debate.

Give a topic for the debate. Have a topic that is connected to what you are currently teaching. For example, if you are teaching students about World War II, "Hitler as a World Leader" could be a possible debate topic. Allow students time of one to three class hours for research on the subject. Encourage students to come up with three to five resources that support their stand in the debate.

Set debate rules and communicate them to students beforehand. Participants should use fluent language and speak in a loud, clear voice. They should be respectful of their peers, address their questions politely and listen to other participants speak without making disruptive noises. They should allow other participants to voice their views without dominating the debate and speak only when asked by the moderator to do so. Consider hanging a poster with debate rules in a visible area in the classroom.

Divide the class into groups of six each. So, if your class has 24 students, you will have four groups for the debate. Assign a specific responsibility to each group member. Every group should have a moderator who opens the debate for the group, presents the debate question, introduces his group members and their roles and controls his group from misbehaving. Have a lead debater who presents the stand of the group and gives key arguments that they are going to make. Assign a questioner to question the arguments of the opposing group(s). Include a question responder to answer the questions from the opposing group. Have a rebutter, in addition, to respond to the cross-examination of the opposing party on the group's behalf. A summariser closes the debate by giving a summary of the group's main arguments, including responses to questions that disputed the team's stand.

Evaluate the performance of each group. Assign points on the basis of the facts given, the number of resources used and adherence to debate etiquette.


If the class strength does not allow equal group distribution, form smaller groups and assign multiple roles to each member.

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About the Author

Hailing out of Pittsburgh, Pa., David Stewart has been writing articles since 2004, specializing in consumer-oriented pieces. He holds an associate degree in specialized technology from the Pittsburgh Technical Institute.