Classroom Debate

In a classroom with a lot of trust, debates – whether with one student, or several – can be a lot of fun as long as the lesson is developed effectively. When planning a debate, make sure:

1. that your students have the vocabulary they need for discussions – I agree, I think that, I disagree, Me too, In my opinion, etc.

2. that your students have sufficient background knowledge on any potentially confusing vocabulary or concepts.

3. that you provide students with ample time to learn about the topic before they discuss.


Choosing a topic to discuss can be easy if you use a New York Times Magazine’s weekly Ethicist article. Here is a lesson option for a fun debate.

1. Divide students into small groups (or work with your individual student on the following steps). Give each group or student a copy of the article, making a point to fold the paper such that the problem is visible, but not the author’s response. Have students read and discuss the problem in their small groups using discussion questions that you provide.

2. Groups come together and discuss their opinions.

3. Break into groups again and have students read and discuss the Ethicist’s opinion using guiding questions that you provide.

4. Groups come together one last time and discuss the opinion.

5. As an option, turn the debate discussion into a more formal debate by dividing into two groups and assigning “sides” (pro and con). Encouraging students to argue an opinion they may not agree with is a great way to build vocabulary.