Classroom debate enables students to communicate ideas around issues that are pertinent
and meaningful. Students are able to explore opposing or conflicting solutions to
complex problems and learn to articulate their ideas (Scannapieco, 1997). Educational
research has elucidated benefits of debate to student learning including enhanced
thinking and writing skills (Green and Klug, 1990). Mumtaz and Latif (2017) showed
that a majority of medical students in a problem-based learning classroom agreed that
debates assisted them in communicating with patients, evoked critical thought and
helped them learn about controversial topics. Scannapieco (1997) provides a model
for structuring a classroom debate. Here, we overview this model, but we also provide
the full reference below. Because the aim of the debater is to convince a listener
of her/his/their position, it is essential that the debater be prepared by understanding/researching
the question/issue, planning a debate strategy, constructing points and rebuttals,
and practicing clear communication. The instructor may find that debates are most
successful if evenly matched teams are selected at the beginning of the term and then
retained. In fact, debates can be embedded into other active learning modalities such
as team-based learning or cooperative learning. Debate topics should not have any
clear answer and should be controversial. They can be provided as a statement. (e.g.
Affirmative action increases the diversity of students at institutions of higher learning.)
The students who are not actively debating should engage by asking questions, and
writing questions and reflections.
Green, C. S. and Klug, H. G. (1990) Teaching critical thinking and writing through
debates: an experimental evaluation. Teaching Sociology. 18:462-471.
Learning through debate during problem- based learning: an active learning strategy.
Adv Physiol Educ 41: 390 –394, 2017; doi:10.1152/advan.00157.2016.
MIT OpenCourseware which is available and features Dr. Janet Rankin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1IeF7D7kkY&ab_channel=MITOpenCourseWare
Scannapieco, F. A. (1997). Formal Debate: An Active Learning Strategy. Journal of
Dental Education. Available: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Frank-Scannapieco/publication/13773888_Formal_debate_an_active_learning_strategy/links/0046352d574f74eba9000000/Formal-debate-an-active-learning-strategy.pdf