Using debates in the classroom provides students the opportunity to work in a collaborative and cooperative group setting. By having students discuss and organize their points of view for one side of an argument they are able to discover new information and put knowledge into action.

Teacher Note: If you need additional assistance in conducting a Debate in your classroom, consult this guide from Northern Illinois University’s Center for Innovative Teaching and Learning or this guide from the International Debate Education Association.


  1. Prepare guidelines and a set of rules to assist students as they prepare for the debate.
    1. Include a time frame in which they have to prepare for the debate and how they are to present their material.
    2. Allow non-debate students to be adjudicators to help them learn how to be objective in rating their peers’ performance.
    3. Determine if non-debating students will be allowed to vote.
  2. Provide resources which will help students learn about debates and their structure.
  3. Consider holding a practice debate to help students understand the process.
  4. Select the format you plan to use from the list of debate types included below. Consider having students prepare brief position papers which also includes their reaction to the debate process and how they were able to reach consensus in their team’s arguments.
  5. Use the deliberation topic, or research controversial, news-breaking and stimulating topics to encourage dynamic and energized classroom discussion. Students are more likely to be authentic when they debate a subject to which they can relate.
  6. Review the debate process previously established and ask for questions and clarifications on the day of the debate.
  7. Prepare rating rubrics and distribute to adjudicators before the debate begins.
  8. Begin the debate, giving students as much autonomy as possible.
  9. Distribute both student and instructor evaluations to the teams. Facilitate classroom discussion and debrief the process at the end of the debate.Teacher Note: Have a plan in place if the debate gets “hot” and students argue instead of debate. Review guidelines before the debate begins to minimize inappropriate discussion and behavior. Also, getting to know your students through observation and actively listening to their classroom conversations can provide helpful information when selecting topics for debate.