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Props/Prep: No
Time: 15-25min
Audience: Any (groups)
Physical: No

Debates allow you to add a participatory dimension to your lecture without compromising your control of the class. One strategy is to divide students according to where they happen to sit. Another approach is to ask them in advance to seat themselves in the section representing a particular side of the debate. When some students refuse to choose one side or the other, create a middle ground and invite their reasons for choosing it. Before concluding, you should ask two or three volunteers to make summary arguments for each side.
The information below refers to an informal debate (i.e., debating as a method of class discussion). A debate is a good way to encourage class participation in large groups without losing control, and they can work in any discipline. Instructors can plan debates beforehand, or they can emerge naturally from classroom material.

Time requirements: 15-25 minutes

Materials needed: None


  • Describe the background context, and explain why you are having a debate.
  • Consider establishing ground rules for the discussion (ex. Disagreements are welcome, name calling and interruptions are not).
  • Decide on the two (or more) sides to the debate.
  • Physically group the class according to points of view: either assign students a point of view depending on where they sit, or ask people who want to argue each point of view to sit together.
  • Invite someone from one side to begin the debate by stating his/her point of view.
  • Invite someone from the other side to state the opposite point of view.
  • Open the floor to comments that question or expand on the issues that were raised.
  • For large groups, you may want to have speakers raise their hands while you moderate, but for small groups, anyone can speak up.
  • The debate will probably start slowly at first, but the intensity should pick up as the students become more comfortable with the new style of in-class interaction.
  • You, as moderator, can ask provocative questions, but don’t express judgment on any point of view or students will hesitate to bring out new ideas for fear of being embarrassed.
  • After 10 to 15 minutes of debating, end the debate.

Function in the class: Use ideas and conflicts from the debate to lead into your presentation of course material.  A debate can also function to kick start a discussion about group dynamics, or assumptions, roles, perceptions, expectations, etc…