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The main mission of the educational system is to provide opportunities for students to get practical and useful training to create a thinking field and to enhance their social abilities. As an effective pedagogical method, debating involves students working as individuals and as a team to research critical issues, prepare and present a logical argument, actively listen to various perspectives, differentiate between subjective and objective information, ask cogent questions, integrate relevant information, develop empathy, project confidence, cultivate poise, and formulate their own opinions based on evidence.

The debate as a teaching tool can be traced back to ancient Greece, with the Sophists, Protagoras, and Aristotle as the earliest pioneers. Today, debates exist in countless forms in any society, ranging from government debates, court proceedings, to debates in media and everyday life where individuals present opposing views through social interaction. The “debate” includes the regular and targeted verbal exchange of concepts and ideas that can be done by a group of people. This form of learning is used in formal systems to collaborative learning processes.

Most debates begin with a short period of individual or group preparation, which is a great time for the teacher to listen in on the preparations the group is making an offer suggestions or answer questions before the debate starts. It is also helpful to end the debate with a debriefing stage when the arguments made by both teams can be assessed and students can discuss their ideas independent of the side they were assigned to or chose to argue. Debating facilitates verbal participation and better involves students in class; instead of passive learning, students take up more responsibility for comprehension of the subject matter and invest more serious study effort. The debate can be a fun and use active learning technique and is thus a great way for students to develop many important skills. Debates are a great tool for engaging students and livening up the classroom curriculum. Using debates in the classroom can help students grasp essential critical thinking and presentation skills. Among the skills classroom debates can foster are abstract thinking, citizenship and etiquette, clarity, organization, persuasion, public speaking, research, and teamwork and cooperation.

The effectiveness of an in-class debate relies heavily upon the level of planning undertaken before class. Students may feel uncomfortable disagreeing publicly, so try to begin with generic discussions to allow students to build confidence. Discuss different roles and encourage students to take on moderator role. When planning your discussions, consider:

    • What content do you want students to focus on?
    • What questions can you ask to inspire a rigorous conversation or debate?
    • Will students need time to prepare in advance?
    • Will students need guidance on how to ask probing questions?

To have a fruitful debate, choose an open question with two (or more) sides that can be reasonably supported with academic evidence. A great place to start is with major debates and schools of thought in your discipline or a moral or ethical question involving the subject matter you are teaching. The question should be simple enough for a non-expert to debate, yet complex enough that students will be able to develop multiple arguments to support their side of the issue.

In-class debate examples:

    • Class debates often work best in small teams.
    • One team arguing for and another team arguing against the issue. The remaining students will be the non-debating audience.
    • Allow the teams time to work together before the debate, so that they can determine arguments for or against a given topic.
    • Each member of the team is allowed to present one argument on behalf of their team.
    • Arguments should be timed, approximately 3-5 minutes per person.
    • Allow time for rebuttals and responses, approximately 1 per person.
    • Include the class in creating a clear set of rules, timings and guidelines for the debate.
    • Non-debating students should work together to create guidelines for how the debate will be judged, evaluated and how feedback will be provided.

The debate is a method with a long history and it works very well without technology, however, technology can bring advantages to the process. Without technology, the debate is generally only practical as a ‘live’ activity with participants and audience in the same room at the same time, but technology can extend the use of debate into situations where it isn’t possible (or desirable) to have everyone together in the same physical environment. Tools such as online discussion boards and forums can provide the same opportunity to include participants from a variety of locations but also allow the debate to take place over an extended period. This would let the participants research their responses to their opponents and take their time in crafting their statements.

An additional advantage of using these tools is that a record is automatically created and can be referred to both during and after the debate – though it is important to make sure that participants are not able to change their contributions after a response has been posted. Other tools can also be used to enhance the debate. For example, the audience could use an Electronic Voting System (EVS) throughout the debate to gauge how persuasive each participant’s argument has been. Recording the debate, either as audio or video, while not contributing to the learning activity itself, would allow the activity to be reviewed and analysed in greater detail than is possible in a live debate. An important point to remember with debating is that the medium can often be more influential than the message. Therefore, it is essential that the students are aware of this phenomenon and so can learn to either use it to their advantage or look beyond it. Although there are disadvantages to using the debate as a teaching-learning strategy, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages

So debate method as an effective training strategy for activating more learners and as a symbol of dynamism of group in process of learning can be effective on the goals of education in all steps. The educational system, therefore, should be written in such a way that in addition to training book content, it should also teach students how to think freely and positively and increase their self-confidence. Second, the usage of this method should be matched with different subjects with different conditions and different ages. And that’s just the beginning!

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Devika Panikar
δάσκαλος (dáskalos) means the teacher in Greek. Devika Panikar has been teaching English Language and Literature since 2006. She is an Assistant Professor with the Directorate of Collegiate Education under the Government of Kerala. She teaches at the Government Colleges under this directorate and is now posted at the Government Law College, Thiruvananthapuram. This website is a collection of lecture notes she prepared by referencing various sources for her students’ perusal. It has been compiled here for the sake of future generations.