4 Fast Debates Formats for the Classroom

Hold Quick Debates in Grades 7-12

Here are 4 debate formats that can be used in a class period.

Links to organizing arguments and rubrics for scoring are available. Topics for arguments can be found on this link Debate Topics for High School  and Debate Topics for Middle School.

There are also websites for students to research topics that are interactive as explained on this post: 3 Websites to Prepare for Debate. These sites also provide student the opportunity to read how debaters organize their arguments and how successful some of the arguments are in making a claim with evidence.

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An Abbreviated Lincoln-Douglas Debate

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The same format for the Lincoln-Douglas Debate can be adjusted to run under 15 minutes using the following time guidelines.

This outline also includes transitions or claim starters for each stage of the process:

  • First Affirmative Speaker- 2 minutes
    • ​​Introduce the topic
  • First Negative Speaker- 2 minutes
    • restate the opponent's viewpoint:
      • "it is often said" or "many people assume that my esteemed opponent believes that" 
  • Second Affirmative Speaker-  2 minutes
    • politely disagree:
      • "on the contrary" or "on the other hand" 
  • Second Negative Speaker- 2 minutes
    • explain why you are right
      • "for example" or "this is why" 
  • Break for Preparation Speaker-  2 minutes
  • Negative Summary/Rebuttal Speaker- 2 minutes
    • conclude with your thesis
      •  "therefore" or "as a result" or  "thus it can be seen" 
  • Affirmative Summary/Rebuttal Speaker- 2 minutes
    • conclude with your thesis
      •  "therefore" or "as a result" or  "thus it can be seen." 

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Role Play Debate

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In a role play debate, students examine different points of view or perspectives related to an issue by playing a "role". For example, a debate about the question Should English class be required for four years? might yield a variety of opinions. Those might include opinions expressed by a student (or perhaps two students -- one representing each side of the issue), a parent, a school principal, a college professor, a teacher, the textbook company, an author, and others.)

Decide in advance (ask students to help you identify) all stakeholders in the debate. You will need 3 index cards for each stakeholder role, and there should also be an index card for each student. Write role of one stakeholder per card. 

Students  choose an index card at random; students holding the same stakeholder card gather together. Each group formulating the arguments for their assigned stakeholder.

During the debate, each stakeholder presents his or her point of view.

In the end, students decide which side of the debate and which stakeholder presented the strongest case.

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Tag Team Debate

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 In a tag team debate, each team of students (no more than 5) represents one side of a debatable question.

Each team has a set amount of time (3-5 minutes) to present its point of view.

Read aloud the issue to be discussed. Give each team the opportunity to discuss their argument.

One speaker from a team takes the floor and can speak for no more than 1 minute. That speaker may "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.

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.

There should be an uneven number of rounds (3-5) before the debate is concluded.

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Inner Circle-Outside Circle Debate

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In the Inner Circle-Outside Circle, arrange students into two groups of equal size.

Students in Group 1 sit in a circle of chairs facing out, away from the circle.

Students in Group 2 sit in a circle of chairs around Group 1, facing the students in Group 1.

Read aloud the issue to be discussed.

Students in the inner circle receive 10-15 minutes to discuss the topic or  which passages of the text to discuss and what path the discussion will take. During that time, all other students focus their attention on the students in the inner circle. 

No one else is allowed to speak.

Each member of the Outer Circle group creates a list of each member of the Inner Circle group and  take notes about points those students bring up. 

After 10-15 minutes, groups switch roles and the process is repeated.

After the second round, all students share their Outer Circle observations. 

The notes from both rounds 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.

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Bennett, Colette. "4 Fast Debates Formats for the Classroom." ThoughtCo, Feb. 21, 2017, thoughtco.com/fast-debate-formats-for-the-classroom-8044. Bennett, Colette. (2017, February 21). 4 Fast Debates Formats for the Classroom. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/fast-debate-formats-for-the-classroom-8044 Bennett, Colette. "4 Fast Debates Formats for the Classroom." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/fast-debate-formats-for-the-classroom-8044 (accessed January 23, 2018).