Teaching Tip: The Great Debate: Pre and Post

Learning Outcomes:

  1. To explore a major issue early on in the course by motivating and engaging students in active learning.
  2. To apply critical and higher level thinking using analysis, synthesis and evaluation skills.
  3. To develop debate, communication and interpersonal skills.
  4. To view issues from diverse perspectives.
  5. To integrate and synthesis course knowledge and content into debate arguments with culminating experience at end of semester


  1. Debate #1 – Early in Semester. During first 2 weeks of the course, engage the class in a debate on a controversial or important course issue
    1. Introduce the topic as a Pro/Con – “Be it resolved that…..” (i.e., In my “Teaching in the Inclusive Classroom,” I chose “Be it resolved that students with special needs should be included in the general education classroom.” This engaging technique can apply to any content or course. I suggest you make a list of potential debate topics and select the most relevant one to the course outcomes).
    2. Divide the class into two groups – one in favor/pro and one against/con. (I suggest that you do not have them select the side they support, but rather you randomly assign teams – that way, they will be forced to critically think from different perspectives and avoids potential personal conflicts.)
    3. They are to discuss in their groups for 5-10 minutes and come up with 3 pro or con arguments. A different person is selected to present each argument.
    4. When the class comes back together,
      1. The Pro side makes their first argument.
      2. Then anyone on the Con side can give a rebuttal against the first Pro point. Once the rebuttal is given, no one on the Pro side can offer any other arguments or comments.
      3. Then the 1st Con argument is presented.
      4. Followed by a rebuttal from the Pro side.
      5. This continues until all three Pro and Con arguments are presented.
    5. The groups then meet again for 5 minutes to create a closing argument per side. The closing statement can summarize what has already been said, can comment on the opposing views or make a new argument. A spokesperson is selected for each team.
    6. Closing arguments are then made.
    7. Debriefing after the first Debate. Following first debate, engage in a discussion about the experience.
  2. Debate #2 – At the culmination of the Semester. At the end of the semester, repeat the same debate.
    1. Follow the same format at above
    2. Debrief by asking
      1. How did the two debate differ and why?
  3. Refection and Debriefing – Physically show what you believe. Following the debate:
    1. Ask the students to physically move to a part of the room based on their current beliefs. (left side = Pro; ride side = Con; in the middle = for those individuals who are on the fence or not 100% on one side)
    2. Prompt with the following questions:
      1. Did your personal views change during the semester? How and why?
      2. For those in the middle, why are you there?
      3. What have you learned from this experience?


Barkley, E. (2010). Student Engagement Techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kennedy, R. (2007). In-class debates: Fertile ground for active learning and the cultivation of  critical thinking and oral communication skills. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 19 (2), 183 -190.

Marzano, R. & Pickering, D. (2011). The Highly Engaged Classroom. Bloomington, IN: Marzano Research Laboratory

Submitted by:
Judith Ableser, Ph.D.- CETL
Director, Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning,
Oakland University, Rochester, MI.