Whose up for a little debate?

I watched an amazing teacher (Kelly Boland Hohne) do a debate with an upper grade class. I love how it really engaged the students. There was so much talking and working by the students. It combined opinion, informational and narrative reading and writing as well as numerous speaking and listening skills. I set out to figure out how it would look in a K-2 classroom. I have been playing around with the structure, however, what I did find out is that 1) kids love it! and 2) the possibilities are endless.

The first debate I tried out was “Do skunks make good pets?”  I broke the debate down into 3 steps 1) Listen 2) Caucus and 3) Debate. The basic outline of the debate it below.

What might a debate look like in my classroom?

1. Listen

You can read aloud a text or do a video aloud on a text  (announce the debate question before, so students can listen with the lens of the debate).You can show multiple texts around a topic. The purpose of the listen step is so students can gather reasons around the question. You can also teach students to take notes during the listen portion for the debate. For the skunk debate I read aloud “A Pet for Petunia” and we watched a video called “skunks 101”. These two text provided students with reasons on both sides and were a combination of fiction and nonfiction as well a combination of video and text. You can assign students a side or let them choose. Line students up in 2 lines facing each other, they can then shake the hand of the student across from them (their opponent) – tell them to remember their opponent

2. Caucus

Students gather with the students of the same side (example: All students that are pro-skunks as pets can meet together) Students share ideas and the reasons to support their argument they were thinking about. The purpose is so students can strengthen their arguments and prepare for the debate.

3. Debate

Students meet the person they are debating from the other team. The person whose hand they shook. They can find a quiet spot around their room to sit facing their debate partner.  They tell their debate partner the reasons they have and talk back to the reasons their partner said.Image

What makes a good debate question?

– Something open ended, where there is evidence on both sides.

– Students need to argue both side so make sure there are reasons on both sides that show up clearly in the texts.

What can I debate?


– Debates are good in any unit

– Fairy tale example : Who is more evil the stepmother or the witch in Hansel and Gretel?

– Nonfiction example: Are snakes dangerous?

– Series example: Is Junie B. Jones selfish?

– Cross genre: Are skunks good pets? (after reading a story and listening to an informational book on skunks)

What can I teach into?

– Debates hit many Common Core standards around speaking and listening as well as the opinion/argument standards

– Possible lessons around debate

– Sticking to your position

– Using text evidence

– Listening to your opponent and asking them questions

– Taking notes to support your side

– Content area knowledge




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