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Inner Circle/Outer Circle
Debate Strategy


Debate Lesson Plan

Return to It's Up for Debate!


Arts & Humanities
  • Language Arts
Social Studies
  • Civics
  • Current Events


  • 3-5
  • 6-8
  • 9-12
  • Advanced


Brief Description

The inner/outer circle debate strategy emphasizes listening to others' views and writing an opinion essay.


Students will
  • listen to the views of others and respond to them.
  • contemplate multiple views on a controversial issue.
  • develop oral speaking skills and impromptu responses in a group discussion.
  • develop skills in supporting one's opinion with facts and examples.
  • write an editorial or position paper.


debate, inner circle, inner/outer, listening, editorial, strategy, writing, point of view

Materials Needed[shopmaterials]

  • chairs, one per student
  • writing paper and pencils/pens
  • a topic for debate (topic/resource ideas provided)

Lesson Plan

This debate strategy focuses on listening to the views of others and responding to them. It is an excellent pre-writing or debate strategy.

Arrange students into four groups of equal size. Arrange students in Group 1 into a circle of chairs facing out, away from the circle. Arrange students in Group 2 into a circle of chairs around Group 1, facing the students in Group 1. Groups 3 and 4 gather around the perimeter of the circle, facing the circle.

Select an issue that students will be motivated to discuss/debate.

If you do not have a topic in mind for this discussion, Education World has collected a handful of Web sites that make good sources of timely, high-interest debate topics in the classroom. Click here and scroll to Debate Topics for Classroom Use.

Now, provide students in the inner circle 10-15 minutes to discuss the topic. During that time, all other students focus their attention on the students in the inner circle. No one else is allowed to speak. Other students take notes about points those students bring up; notes are used in a follow-up classroom discussion and/or for writing an editorial opinion expressing a point of view on the issue at hand.

That is one Inner/Outer Circle debate format. For another lesson plan that employs a variation on this format, and for additional debate topic ideas, see the lesson Cooperative Team- and Class-Building Activities.


At the end of the inner/outer circle activity, students use their notes to formulate a cogent editorial opinion about the topic of discussion.

National Standards


    GRADES K - 4
    NSS-C.K-4.2 Values and Principles of Democracy

Find more Debate Resources or click to return to this week's Lesson Planning article, It's Up for Debate!


Originally published 03/14/2003
Last updated 04/25/2009