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What is it?

Debating is a structured contest of argumentation in which two opposing individuals or teams defend and attack a given proposition. The objective is to convince the audience rather than display skill in attacking the opponent.

When to use it?

Debates are ideal for controversial issues - with "pro" and "con" viewpoints. When discussing a controversial issue on which there are fairly definite opinions on both sides to bring these differences out in the open in a friendly manner.

It is particularly useful to help students

  • confront their own assumptions with regards to the issue at hand;
  • develop deeper understanding of multiple perspectives;
  • foster critical thinking in generating persuasive arguments;
  • respect other people's perspectives; and
  • engage in civil dialogue and active listening.

How to implement it?

  1. Introduce the topic - Definethe topic or issue clearly and make sure that your students understand the scope of this debate.
  2. Setting expectations - Explain the format/structure of the debate as well as the timing associated with each stage. You may also want to clarify your expectation of the language/vocabulary that the students use during the debate. It is important to ensure discussions remain objective and to keep track of time.
  3. Assign the Affirmative and the Negative - Naturally, one will argue for and another against the topic/issue.
  4. Give Time for Research/Strategizing - Encourage each group to form a strategy as to who will do most of the talking during the debate though remind them that all of them are expected to participate in the research and strategy of the debate.
  5. Debate - Each group present their respective arguments in a limited predetermined time.
  6. Rebuttal (Optional) - Each group will have a chance to discuss with their teams the points the opposition made and decide how to refute them.Each group has a chance to respond to the others' original arguments.
  7. Closure - How you wrap up this learning activity depends on the learning objective. You may choose to facilitate a debrief to discuss the different views expressed, to assign an reflective assignment asking students to compare and contrast arguments, or to evaluate students' ability to communicate clearly and respectfully.

Riffs and Variations

  1. Hot Seat/Press Secretary: Each speaker spends their minutes fielding questions from the audience regarding their stance on a given issue (a timed Q&A)
  2. Four Corners: a resolution is read, and delegates disperse into corners of a room according to their points of view on the issue (strongly disagree, disagree, agree, strongly agree). Each corner defends its position.

Additional Resources

  • UBC Debate Society: - You may request a Debate Society rep to your class and teach students how to debate.

Additional Bibliography

  • Kanuka, H., Rourke, L., & Laflamme, E. (2007). The influence of instructional methods on the quality of online discussion. British Journal of Educational Technology, 38(2), 260-271.
  • Omelicheva, M. Y. (2005). There’s no debate about using debates! Instructional and assessment functions of educational debates in political science curricula. Available at:
  • Rubin, R.W., Weyant, R. J., & Trovato, C. A. (2008). Utilizing debates as an instructional tool for dental students. Journal of Dental Education, 72:282-287.

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When reusing this resource, please attribute to: Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology of University of British Columbia (Vancouver Campus), TLPD Team.