Debate A Side

Debate a Side is an interactive activity that engages students in a structured, academic discussion. This activity engages students in critical thinking and supports them as they learn how to form original arguments.

To begin, provide a debatable topic and ask students to choose a side. Once students choose a side, they take turns expressing their positions to the entire class. During this activity, all students will have multiple opportunities to think at a higher level and communicate with others.


The purpose of this activity is to teach students how to articulate a position and support it with strong evidence. This is a fun way for students to express viewpoints and learn how to effectively use language to persuade an audience.

The following steps will guide you through the activity.

Step 1: Provide a topic that can be debated

The following sample topics are general and could be used to teach this activity.

  1. Should schools require students to wear uniforms?
  2. Should schools be allowed to sell energy drinks?
  3. Should schools give students access to Facebook?
  4. Should students be allowed to use cell phones in class?
  5. We need to lower the (driving or voting) age?
  6. Students should be allowed to use mobile devices like smartphones and iPads in class.
  7. We should stop making products out of plastic.
  8. Young students should not be allowed to play contact sports like hockey and football.
  9. Middle school and high school campuses should have designated bike and skate paths in and around their schools.
  10. Students should be allowed to work at the age of 13.

Topics can be generic like the sample questions above or they can relate to specific ideas studied in class.

Step 2: Students discuss both sides of the issue

Have students pair up and share their thoughts about the topic/issue. Students should share for a few minutes.

Step 3: Students independently create a list of pros and cons

Students should use the Debate a Side Prep Sheet found on the Debate a Side skill page or write down their ideas in their notes. Students should take three minutes to write down the pros and cons to the issue.

Step 4: Students share their pros and cons with a partner

Students should be encouraged to share with a new partner. We want students to compare their pros and cons with others in the classroom before they make a final decision about the topic.

Step 5: Students craft a one sentence statement

The one sentence statement should include the students' main position on the issue and one reason or detail.

Step 6: Students choose a side

Divide the student desks evenly, creating two physical sides. Identify which side is the pro and which side is the con. Allow students to get up and move to the side they support.

Step 7: Volunteers from each side stand and make arguments

One student stands at the front of the class and speaks. Set time limits so that students do not dominate the conversation. Two minutes should be a maximum time allowed for students to stand and speak to the class. As an option, have students evaluate the arguments by either using "thumbs up or thumbs down" or "green, yellow, red" cards. For more on student responses see Critical Responding Strategies.

Step 8: All students share their one sentence statements

This step should be used when you are wanting to engage all students in the discussion. There are a few things you can do here. You can have students share their one sentence statements in small groups or have them stand at their desks and share their statements with the whole class. Setting an expectation that all students will share will increase student engagement and improve the success of future speaking activities.

Literacy Standards In Action

We've mapped our literacy lessons and reading, speaking, and writing skills to state standards, Common Core, and NGSS. The standards are "the what" to teach. Our lessons are "the how" to meet the expectations defined by the standards. Click on the links below to view our quick reference table that maps standards to literacy lessons.

Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.
Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.
Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.
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