I begin the lesson by showing students the following image and have them respond to the question "Does this portray an effective debate? Why or why not?"
Student responses should state the negative, recognizing that both sides are speaking at the same time and both their facial expressions and body language are aggressive.
I use these answers to point out to students that debates are not about arguing with each other or trying to change the other speaker's perspective, but rather about attempting to gain the support of the people who are still undecided on the issue. I explain to the speakers on both sides that they must control how they communicate their points today as I do not want to hear attacks on the other side, but a clearly stated position supported by strong explanations.
During the prior lesson, students selected 2 speakers to represent each "side" of the discussion. They are the only people allowed to talk during the actual debate, and only one of them may speak during their designated time.
Now, it is up to these representatives to determine how they will split their debate responsibilities; they can trade off or elect to have one person do all of the talking. Having two speakers provides some moral support but, more importantly, it is an efficient use of "regrouping" time as it allows students to break off into smaller groups during the conference time to collect more ideas from their whole group.
The format that I use for the debate is as follows:
I wanted to get a video of my students in action but the students were uncomfortable being filmed for this activity as they had never done this type of activity before and they asked me not to record. This video explains the how, what, and why of the debate set up.
At the conclusion of the debate I have students take out a half sheet of paper and write their thoughts on which side gave the strongest argument. I remind students to disregard their personal opinions as they are not telling me who they agree with but who made the better case.
At this point I swear some of these students can read my mind. One student made the comment, "I really think we were arguing the wrong thing. I think the question is not about if knowing is obsolete, but really if schools are obsolete." This is exactly where I have been planning to take this discussion!
To prepare for the next lesson in this series, I asked the students to consider their school experience from kindergarten through eighth grade through the lens of the question "are schools today obsolete?" There was no formal work to be recorded, just consider how they would respond to the question based on their personal experience.