Creating Passionate Debates and Fervent Dialogues

In our TCI webinar on this topic, we discovered that engaging students in debate or whole-class discussions involves a few steps and some rich resources. Here are the guidelines we shared:

1. Challenge students to discuss controversial and complex issues in small groups.
2. Create heterogeneous groups and a suitable classroom arrangement.
3. Prepare students to answer provocative critical thinking questions.
4. Allow groups time to prepare their responses.
5. Facilitate a lively class discussion.

We also talked about some specific structures for debates:

Talk it Out: Divide class into pairs.  Assign each one side of argument or a historical persona.  Begin with a sentence starter for one person.  Have everyone who represents that say it with you aloud and then give them 30 seconds to a minute to continue uninterrupted by their partner.

Fishbowl Discussion: After small groups discuss a debate item, send one representative from 3 to 4 groups into the middle of a ring surrounded by the class.  Have the inner-ring of students discuss and while the outer-ring score the discussion based on a rubric.

Web Polling: Use a website like or http://twtpoll to create an online poll and have students answer a debate question there before doing a large-group debrief.

Social Media Discussion: Use a site like Twitter (along with a custom hashtag #customhashtag) or another social media site and moderate a debate.  Require everyone who participates to use the Rules for Presenters in a Class Discussion.

Graffiti Debate: Using websites like,, or have students make their debate/discussion points with images, video, or song.  Conduct a class debrief on what were the major takeaways.

You can easily adapt these rules to fit your classroom.
You can easily adapt these rules to fit your classroom.

Download the Rules for Presenters in a Class Discussion.