Prepare in the Fall for Spring Assessments

Practice Debates ⇒Argumentative Essays

Meeting Common Core State Standards is not the only reason to have students learn to think about claims, reasons, counter-aguments, and evidence.  The four major assessments students will face in the near future ask them to show they know to read deeply and write an organized persuasive essay.  Start now for success later.

Consider having students practice oral arguments before writing argumentative or persuasive essays.  During debates, remind students that it is information and reasoning, rather than volume and unsupported opinions that make for convincing speeches and compelling essays.

One way for students to understand this concept better is to prepare for, participate in, and then debrief experiencing debates.

(1) Let students choose three or four topics that interest them.  You may find connecting  topics to recently read literature helps shyer students become eager debaters. You could ask students to assume the persona of a character from the reading and then choose and debate issues that character would be passionate about, one on which the character would want to have his/her position articulated.

(2) Take the time to hold a discussion on possible topics important or of interest to your students. A good start comes from exploring the topics at these mentioned on or at these websites with recent topics used in middle school or high school competitive debate.  Narrow list of topics to four or five.

(3) Next, invite students to draw for a topic from the list decided by the class.  After drawing, allow students who wish to do so, one minute to exchange with classmates.  When exchange time ends, each must keep the topic held.

(4) Then, show students structure for their oral presentation using this format “Outline for Simple Classroom Debate if the whole class will be debating one topic or SPARring, if pairs of students will be debating different topics.

(5) Most important, allot in-class time for small groups to research and develop plans or positions on their topics.

*** If it is a policy issue: What is the problem? Why is it BAD? Says who? What needs to be changed to solve the problem? Why is solution preferable to the status quo/current situation? Says who? Is the solution DESIRABLE, AFFORDABLE, ENFORCEABLE, CONSTITUTIONAL?

*** If it is a value issue: What is the problem? What are criteria for evaluating it? What is the solution? How does the solution meet the evaluation criteria?

(6) On debate days, have students NOT debating that day, serve as anonymous peer responders.  On the top left corner of their feed-back sheet, indicate with a plus or minus whether they agree or disagree with the proposition.  At the end of the debate, in the upper right corner, indicate whether their opinion remains the same (+), changed (√) or is opposed (-).  (See ideas on this Evaluation – PERSUASIVE SPEECH form to adapt for your purposes). Read first, and then share feedback with speakers.

(7)  Finally, repeat the round of debates, this time each student must debate the opposite side!  Adjust times for speeches as needed. Just be consistent.

This is where the most learning takes place.  When student see the reasons one on the opposite side may believe the status quo is fine, or the solutions offered either do not solve the problem or create new ones, they have a better sense of why controversy continues.  Or when students see that ones values and attitudes influence ones behavior, the students understand why people they respect may hold completely different views.

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Teaching English Language Arts