Updated May 2009


Debate Lesson Plan
Back to Debate Lesson Plan
Below you will find links that will take you to the best resources on the Web for
  • debate rules;
  • debate rubrics for student assessment;
  • debate topics for classroom use;
  • more debate lesson plans; and
  • fun debate strategies.

Debate Rules

Debate Rubrics for Student Assessment
Use one of these rubrics to assess student performance, or adapt the rubrics to create one that meets your needs:

Debate Topics for Classroom Use

  • Ideas for Debate Topics
    This teacher-created list contains more than three dozen topics, mostly about student-centered issues (Should students be required to wear uniforms to school? or Should students be permitted to go to PG-13 movies? ) Included: A good list of topics of interest to students at the elementary or middle school level.
  • Social Issues Homework Center
    This Web page from the Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon, offers links to resources related to more than two dozen debate topics including affirmative action, animal rights, child labor, gangs, and flag burning.
  • IDEA Debatabase
    This database/search engine links students to resources for debates on issues related to culture, the environment and animal welfare, science and technology, sports, more. Plus a database of debate skill-building exercises.
  • High School Debate Topics
    The site offers links to resources related to debate topics that include mental health care policy, weapons of mass destruction, privacy issues, renewable energy, juvenile crime, more.

More Debate Lesson Plans

Fun Debate Strategies
The following fun strategies can be used to engage students and vary the debate structure by involving the entire class in different ways:

  • Three-Card strategy -- This technique can be used as a pre-debate strategy to help students gather information about topics they might not know a lot about. It can also be used after students observe two groups in a debate, when the debatable question is put up for full classroom discussion. This strategy provides opportunities for all students to participate in discussions that might otherwise be monopolized by students who are frequent participators. In this strategy, the teacher provides each student with two or three cards on which are printed the words "Comment or Question." When a student wishes to make a point as part of the discussion, he or she raises one of the cards; after making a comment or asking a question pertinent to the discussion, the student turns in the card. This strategy encourages participants to think before jumping in; those who are usually frequent participants in classroom discussions must weigh whether the point they wish to make is valuable enough to turn in a card. When a student has used all the cards, he or she cannot participate again in the discussion until all students have used all their cards.
  • Participation Countdown strategy -- Similar to the technique above, the countdown strategy helps students monitor their participation, so they don't monopolize the discussion. In this strategy, students raise a hand when they have something to say. The second time they have something to say, they must raise their hand with one finger pointing up (to indicate they have already participated once). When they raise their hand a third time, they do so with two fingers pointing up (to indicate they have participated twice before). After a student has participated three times, he or she cannot share again as long as any other student has something to add to the discussion.
  • Tag Team Debate strategy -- This strategy can be used to help students learn about a topic before a debate, but it is probably better used when opening up discussion after a formal debate or as an alternative to the Lincoln-Douglas format. In a tag team debate, each team of five members represents one side of a debatable question. Each team has a set amount of time (say, 5 minutes) to present its point of view. When it's time for the team to state its point of view, one speaker from the team takes the floor. That speaker can speak for no more than 1 minute, and must "tag" another member of the team to pick up the argument before his or her minute is up. Team members who are eager to pick up a point or add to the team's argument, can put out a hand to be tagged. That way, the current speaker knows who might be ready to pick up the team's argument. No member of the team can be tagged twice until all members have been tagged once.
  • Role Play Debate strategy -- In the Lincoln-Douglas debate format, students play the roles of Constructor, Cross-Examiner, and so on. But many topics lend themselves to a different form of debate -- the role-play debate. In a role-play debate, students examine different points of view or perspectives related to an issue. See a sample lesson: Role Play Debate.
  • Fishbowl strategy -- This strategy helps focus the attention of students not immediately involved in the current classroom debate; or it can be used to put the most skilled and confident debaters center stage, as they model proper debate form and etiquette. As the debaters sit center-stage (in the "fishbowl"), other students observe the action from outside the fishbowl. To actively involve observers, appoint them to judge the debate; have each observer keep a running tally of new points introduced by each side as the debate progresses. Note: If you plan to use debates in the future, it might be a good idea to videotape the final student debates your current students present. Those videos can be used to help this year's students evaluate their participation, and students in the videos can serve as the "fishbowl" group when you introduce the debate structure to future students. Another alternative: Watch one of the Online Debate Videos from Debate Central.
  • Inner Circle/Outer Circle strategy -- This strategy, billed as a pre-writing strategy for editorial opinion pieces, helps students gather facts and ideas about an issue up for debate. It focuses students on listening carefully to their classmates. The strategy can be used as an information-gathering session prior to a debate or as the structure for the actual debate. See a sample lesson: Inner Circle/Outer Circle Debate.
  • Think-Pair-Share Debate strategy -- This strategy can be used during the information gathering part of a debate or as a stand-alone strategy. Students start the activity by gathering information on their own. Give students about 10 minutes to think and make notes. Next, pair each student with another student; give the pair about 10 minutes to share their ideas, combine their notes, and think more deeply about the topic. Then pair those students with another pair; give them about 10 minutes to share their thoughts and gather more notes´┐Ż Eventually, the entire class will come together to share information they have gathered about the topic. Then students will be ready to knowledgably debate the issue at hand. See the Think-Pair-Share strategy in action in an Education World article, Discussion Webs in the Classroom.
  • Four Corners Debate strategy -- In this active debate strategy, students take one of four positions on an issue. They either strongly agree, agree, disagree, or strongly disagree. See a sample lesson: Four Corners Debate.
  • Graphic Organizer strategy -- A simple graphic organizer enables students to compare and contrast, to visualize, and to construct their position on any debatable question. See a sample lesson using a simple two-column comparison graphic organizer in the Education World article Discussion Webs in the Classroom.
  • Focus Discussions strategy -- The standard rules for a Lincoln-Douglas style debate allow students 3 minutes to prepare their arguments. The debatable question/policy is not introduced prior to that time. If your students might benefit from some research and/or discussion before the debate, you might pose the question and then have students spend one class period (or less or more) gathering information about the issue's affirmative arguments (no negative arguments allowed) and the same amount of time on the negative arguments (no affirmative arguments allowed). See a sample lesson: Human Nature: Good or Evil?.

More Debate Resources

Return to this week's Lesson Planning article, It's Up for Debate!, for five debate strategy lesson plans.