Debating in Class

Hello All!

Tomorrow is a big day in my English IV courses.  The students will conduct a debate, the first time using this format of idea exchange and defense.  In the past we have used Socratic seminars, group discussion, and other forms of summative assessment, but tomorrow is going to require them to tap into other skills that they have been developing over the course of the school year.


The structure of the debate that we are going to be utilizing tomorrow has been adopted from various sources and trial-and-error on my part from previous years’ English classes.  For tomorrow’s debate, the students are going to be demonstrating their knowledge and understanding of the characters and plot of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Before beginning the specifics of the debate topic, I first address the general purpose of a classroom debate:

  • Allows participants to analyze the similarities and differences between differing viewpoints
  • Understand where opinions diverge and why.
  • Way to model the analytical and communicative processes that students are learning whenever they examine course material through oral or written work.
  • Challenge students to think critically about course material
  • Provide a forum for them to develop the arts of expression that allow them to communicate their ideas.

Their specific purpose/objective:

  • To convince Mrs. Ferrari that your position on where the ultimate responsibility for the deaths of William, Justine, Henry, Elizabeth, and Victor’s father lies.
  • How?


–Convincing structure (logic)

–Quality of the debate/argument being delivered


After explaining their objective,I explain the general structure of the debate.

  • There will be two teams based upon which character the group feels is ultimately responsible for the deaths.
  • Speakers will be chosen by the team.  More than one speaker can be utilized; they should be chosen based on their skills at speaking, responding to the opposing team’s arguments, and ability to convince the judge (me) of their argument.
  • In preparation for the debate, teams will develop three strong points in favor of their point of view.  Textual evidence is required.  Those team members who are less adept at public speaking can work as researchers, both prior to the debate and during, for reinforcement.

Here is the structure of the debate borrowed from “The Noisy Classroom” :

  • Introduction – who are you and what do you stand for?
  • Preview – What are the names of the points you are going to cover?
  • Rebuttal – unless you are the first speaker, you’d say “first lets take a look at what we heard from the previous speaker” and disagree with their points.
  • Point One – “Now onto my points”
    Explanation (the reasoning – why is your point true and why does it mean your overall position is right?
    Evidence (facts, analogies, examples, imagery or authority to support your reasoning)
  • Point Two – Name, Explanation, Evidence
  • Point Three – Name, Explanation, Evidence
  • Reminder – remind the audience of the three points you have covered
  • Vote for Us

I then provide the behavior expectations:

  • Only the elected speaker may address the question or opposing team. Any comments made by “the gallery” will cause the team to lose points.
  • The speaker may only address the question and may not attack, personally, the opposing team.
  • Derogatory comments made from either the gallery or speaker will count as negative points, and will also result in a referral for specific students.
  • Professional tone and vocabulary is required.
  • Any divergence from the topic, personal anecdotes or other off-topic behavior/commentary will result in lost points.

Finally, students are informed of how they will “win” the debate.

Ultimately, points are earned by:

  • providing a textually sound, accurate, and logical argument.
  • textually sound, accurate, and logical rebuttals.

Points are lost, or not awarded, when:

  • textual evidence is not provided
  • inaccurate points are made
  • disruptive behavior abounds
  • speaking out of turn.


PowerPoint: Debate Structure and Purpose

Student Response Frankenstein Debate Assignment (Frankenstein specific)


Destiny in Retrospect

A poignant message delivered by me, via John Green, to all my students, past, present, and future. 

Please watch this, and not because it’s John Green or because I said so or because you’re bored. Watch this to know, despite a grade (given even by me) or an SAT score or a college acceptance/denial letter, I believe in you and destiny is only in retrospect.