Students’ debate

Students’ debate

Historically, the practice of debate is linked, on the Greek agora, to the emergence of democracy. Later, the philosophy of the Enlightenment established a close link between the birth of the modern democratic state and the existence of a public space ensuring the right of expression and confrontation of opinions.

"Knowing how to debate" is a key skill in civic education, a way for learners to experience, in a situation and in the institution, a public and responsible speech. Debating implies a communication ethic without which one falls into physical violence or verbal abuse: debating is civilising.

The debate tool is used, after an activity of reading articles or resulting from group work, to memorise new information and link it to one's own knowledge. The debate then serves as a confrontation of the knowledge and representations of everyone, including those of the teacher.

Students’ debate

Resources produced as a result of a project: Escapade

Group size : Group (10-15 persons), Classroom (20-30 persons), Amphitheater, large group

Modality : Presential, Distancial

Duration of the teaching method : In a session, Over several sessions

Special equipment : No particular material depending on the modality

Type of knowledge developed : Knowledge, Social skills

Target Audience : Students, Professionals in training

Course Type : Tutorials (TD), Course

Preparation time :2 to 3 hours, choose the articles/documents to be read, determine the objectives of the debate

Author and persons who made changes : Julien Rose

Why am I using this technique?

For my learners...

Developing critical thinking, listening skills, public speaking, structured speech construction, the organisation of debates in class has many educational advantages that have long been identified by many teachers. The skills developed in this way also make sense in today's society, where participatory democracy is booming and requires citizens trained in this delicate but beneficial exercise. It may also be added that in the case of tests that call for extended argumentative and lexical skills in both oral and written form.

For me, teacher or trainer...

This activity requires an investment by the teacher/trainer in finding articles/documents/media to read or watch. The Debate in the Classroom tool is a good and fun way to get students involved in a controversy or issue on a topic. It can be used to increase the skills and/or knowledge of the whole class. It also allows the teacher to be very adaptable in this exercise because he/she can, at any time, direct the debate towards his/her learning objectives.

Framework and steps / Instructions

The framework

This type of method is interesting for getting students to exchange views on a subject and to "break" or "confirm" the representations they may have. It promotes critical thinking and other soft skills.

The preparation

It is necessary to prepare the reading materials well and to think about how to link the debate to the learning objectives.

The process

The process can take several forms depending on the objective of the debate

1.    As an introduction to a lesson:

Objectives > Warming up - Deepening and extending the themes already discussed

- Questions and possible extensions on previous debates: the objective is to refresh everyone's memory and to continue to develop a theme in the light of current events;

- Speed debating" in various forms:

  • Projection of a statement or an illustration to which the learners must react and argue in a limited time (max 3 minutes)
  • Projection of a series of arguments to be rephrased (for example, to gain conciseness)
  • Projection of a series of arguments for which the learners must find an opposing argument
  • Projection of a series of arguments for which the learners have to find (or imagine) an example or an illustration
    etc. (the aim being to rework micro-skills already developed in class)

2.    Development and reinforcement of skills

Objectives > To work on a targeted and precise micro-skill to help debate

This stage of the session allows the student to work on a specific skill useful for debating. Because of the obvious heterogeneity of the learners and the points to be addressed, this moment constitutes a complete and separate teaching sequence which is the subject of a dedicated sheet.

Re-use is generally done during the debate that follows, with learners being strongly encouraged to make an extra effort with regard to this skill during their exchanges of the day and in the future.

- Knowing how to introduce a debate of ideas
- Finding and diversifying arguments
- How to illustrate and justify arguments
- ...

3.    Discussion and pooling of ideas on the day's theme

This stage allows the learners to share their ideas and check their understanding of the theme by comparing it with that of the others following their preparatory work at home. The teacher can answer any questions here by rotating between the groups. This is also a way of getting into the topic and starting to explain their ideas so that they are perfectly comfortable during the debate itself.

Brainstorming on the new topic: use of a graphic document or a word illustrating the topic of the day around which the learners must build a mind map of key words.

Distribution of the introduction to the debate: a short text identical for everyone giving and contextualising the theme of the debate

Exchange and sharing of ideas found via documents consulted at home. The exchange is done in small groups, then the partners are changed to collect new ideas. At this stage, they do not yet know the position they will have to defend in the debate, nor their future partners/adversaries.

Questions and possible clarifications to be asked to the teacher (vocabulary, concept,)

Generally speaking, the teacher's role here is mainly that of an observer. However, the teacher should not hesitate to guide the learners towards new ideas or to redirect them if they are really going the wrong way.

4.    Feedback on the debate

The main aim of this feedback stage is to make the learners identify and become aware of points and aspects to be improved for a future debate. Once it has been thought out and constructed in class, it is best to use a self-evaluation sheet to help and guide the moderators and reporters in their note-taking. Feedback can then be given in three stages:

Report(s) by the moderator(s) on the general conduct of the debates: respect for speaking time, listening to others, etc.

Report(s) by the possible reporter(s) on the contents: quick summary of the arguments put forward but also of those not mentioned by the group although they are important. Note: learners can be encouraged to complete their notes in preparation for the written text to be produced at home.

Feedback from the teacher based on his/her notes taken throughout the session: additions to the moderators' and rapporteurs' reports, anonymous feedback on recurrent linguistic problems and errors, skills to be (re)worked on because they have not yet been mastered, etc. Always end with positive remarks on what has been done well and/or improved since the last debate.


It is possible to produce a self-assessment grid for this activity or, following the debate, to ask students to produce a summary note (collaborative or individual) sent to the teacher.


As explained in the flow, the Debate activity is a very adaptable tool, it can take many forms and be used, for example, with groups of students.

Points of vigilance

The key to the success of the Debate is to find a few students who 'initiate' the discussion to allow the exchange to take place. It is better if this comes from them than from the teacher.

The roles of moderators and reporters are also important.

It is also important that the documents provided are read before the discussion.

What if it doesn't work?

Depending on the topic, the beginning may be a bit difficult. It is important to take time to reflect on the ideas that the students have retained.

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