By: Catharine Niuzzo Honaman

Time: Two weeks. One week to learn the structure of a debate and to gather information for one. Then a second week to put the information into the debate format and to conduct practice debates in the classroom.
Materials: Rules of Procedure (1 per student)
Student Debate Forms (1 per group)


This lesson is an introduction into the formal language and format of debate. Students will practice using a controversial issue from their science class. The emphasis of this lesson is being able to concisely, accurately and emphatically argue one’s point in a public forum. This is an opportunity for students to further their understanding of the science topic with exposure to the formal debate process. Students revisit library research and may add to their countries portfolios and annotated bibliographies.

Students will be able to:-
1. conduct research using multiple sources to support a position in a debate
2. put information from multiple sources into correct debate format
3. participate in a debate arguing one position in a focused manner

Concept 6: Comprehension Strategies
PO 4: Connect information and events in text to experience and to
related text and sources.
Strand 3: Comprehending Informational Text
Concept 1: Expository Text
PO 3: Locate specific information by using organizational features
in expository text.
Strand 2: Functional Text
PO 2: Synthesize information from multiple sources to draw conclusions.

LS-P1: Deliver a polished speech that is organized and well suited to the audience
and that uses resource materials to clarify and defend positions.
LS-P5: Evaluate the effectiveness of informal and formal presentations that use
illustrations, statistics, comparisons, and analogies.

Teacher Background

Resource Websites




Often in high school we ask students to express their ideas through writing. This lesson asks them to improve their ability to verbally express their ideas clearly, concisely, and accurately. What situations require a person to be able to verbally state his or her ideas with authority? Which professions require individuals to be able to argue their points verbally with strength and compelling evidence? Are there instances in a high school student’s life when being able to argue his or her point calmly with supporting evidence would come in handy?

1. To the students, “In science you have been learning about the very controversial topics of genetically modified foods and pesticides and in 9th grade you also looked at changing land use such as grazing in the southwest. This agriculture practices have both advocates and critics. Their potential is to both benefit and harm human health, the environment and economic stability of both individual farmers and nations as a whole is currently being hotly debated in the media, in the decision making bodies of nations, and in the halls of academia. Now you are part of this debate”

2. Introduce the debate format, “A debate has a structured format. For this introduction to debate we are going to use a modified format based upon Karen Reynosa’s Debate Rules http://www.laep.org/uclasp/ISSUES/bringing_water/debate.htm

3. Share with the students the format, noting that they will be fitting their research into this structure.

Karen Reynosa has developed a format for a classroom debate, which she has refined over the years while teaching Chemistry at Venice High School. An Invitation To Virtually Debate The ISSUES has borrowed extensively from Karen's development of this very interesting tool. Debate facilitates a person's displaying the progress in understanding issues related to important controversies with which our society is presently engaged, and to which this website is focused.

TOPIC: _________________________________________________________
Opposition: _____________________ Proponents:______________________

You are now a member of your selected team. Your team will be graded as a whole. This means that you will be as strong as your weakest link. Be sure that you work together so that all members of your team have an adequate background of the positions and arguments thatyou will be proposing.

1. There will be an opening statement made by your team. This should be 3-5 minutes long and should state your team's position and the arguments/solutions you will be proposing.
Responsible Members: ____________________________

2. You should have at least 15 questions that can be asked of each of your 3 opponents. These should be on separate sheets of paper or on notecards for easy reference. The questions should be specifically directed to your opponents and should be concise and clear.
Responsible Members: ____________________________

3. You should have answers prepared which will be used to respond to your opponents questions. Imagine that you are from the other teams and determine what questions may be asked of your team.
Responsible Members: ____________________________

4. You should have a final conclusive argument/statement drawn up which will be written at the end of your debate. This should be no longer than 7 minutes. You should take notes during the entire debate so that you may refer to these in your final presentation of your team's views.
Responsible Members: ____________________________

When you have determined who will be responsible for each portion of your team's debate, it is up to ou to prepare yourself for the challenge that lies ahead. Only one team will win this debate. The winning team will:
-have a solid background regarding all material
-have plenty of evidence to back up claims
-use teamwork to teach all in group the important concepts behind specific
-be creative/psyche out opponents
-outclass opponents/never give an answer of "uh...."

Good luck! This assignment is worth ________ points and wil be graded based upon your ability to debate this issue and convince the judges that you are indeed deserved of your claim.

4. Divide the students into 3 groups, one for each topic and split each group in half, assigning one side the pro position and the other the con position so that there will be an equal number on each side of each issue. When students get into their small groups they need to first assess how much usable information they have from their other classes on their topic.

5. The next step is to go to your school’s library or computer lab to do additional research to find more information to reinforce the strength of the arguments they will make. Remember to stress the critical analysis of material. Quality of material is more important than quantity! This is also a time to be adding to the annotated bibliography. Allow multiple days for research. Then multiple days will spent in the classroom arranging the information and preparing for the practice debates.

6. Finally, multiple days will be spent putting on the practice debates. What are these practice for? In the final weeks of this unit student teams will be involved in a United Nations style forum in which they will be formally discussing various international issues. The three different topics allow students to observe two different debates while participating in a third one.

7. Often when we think of “arguments” we picture angry people shouting over each other’s words and interrupting their opponent. Yet, in the international forum of the United Nations decorum must be preserved. Ask the students what they see as the value of having to use a highly structured debate format when peoples of different cultural backgrounds are trying to find common ground.

8. Before the practice debates begin introduce the formal language of debate provided in the “Rules of Procedure.” Explain to the students that these allow a freedom of expression rather than constraining the participants. Share these Rules of Procedure with the students, model use by having students use them as they discuss a timely concern (such as taking soda machines out of school lunch rooms). Use the Order of Debate sheet at the end of the lesson plan to set this up. This exercise illustrates the specific order and terminology that is used in the United Nations to preserve order and civility while issues of grave consequence are being discussed.

Embedded Assessment
This is an assignment which lends itself well to self-evaluation by the students with a component of peer evaluation based on the perceived “winner” of the in-class debates. You may wish to have a short discussion after each debate where the whole class gives input as to which group was most successful in each debate match, was best prepared, argued their points most effectively, etc.

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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