There are usually two camps of students when it comes to social studies class: those who loath and those who love. But the great equalizer of both groups is the age old teenage desire to argue. Students (for the most part) LOVE a good debate. Any chance to argue is an automatic in with almost every class I've ever taught. For this last foray into my inquiry workshop, we did something a little different and we tried out a u-shaped debate. I also had a colleague visiting my class this day and she was able to participate and made this debate extra lively and impassionaied.
If you have not attempted this style of debate - it is so easy (and fun)! You will need:
- 4 signs labelled: strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree
- Your desks/tables arranged in an upside down U shape.
- A polarizing (but appropriate) topic or statement.
We began with a warm up question to get the juices flowing. This was not for the u-shaped debate but to get our brains in the right place before entering into debate mode. Our first round was "Is humankind essentially good or essentially evil?" As per our usual style, I gave two minutes of discussion with peers then two minutes of large group discussion on the topic. I jumped for joy when a students responded with a question "Well...what is the definition of good?" and better yet "Who decides what is good an evil?". Inquiry nirvana!
For the U-shaped debate I gave students instructions on how to move around and how our debate would work. Here are a few pointers:
- Move around the U and place yourself where you agree with the statement (SA, A, D, SD). It is a continuum with varying degrees of agreement and disagreement.
- When you would like to speak you may only respond to one previous point (not multiples) and you must attack or respond to the point not the person who spoke it. Respectful discourse must be upheld at all times.
- If you hear something that you agree with, move yourself towards that speaker. Same thing goes if you disagree with something said and you would move away from the speaker.
- Note where you start and where you end up.
- Listen and 'collect' one point that was stated that made you move towards/away from the speaker. You will be reflecting on this in a small writing piece at the end of the debate.
Here was our topic: "In order to graduate from high school in Alberta, students must complete a set amount of volunteer hours."
This debate was AWESOME - students were moving and shifting as their peers spoke. I also had students request MORE time during the writing portion. Yes. You read that right. Students wanted more time to complete their reflections on this debate. The kicker for me, and something I will never forget, was when a student came up to me after the class was ended and said "That was the best debate I've ever had in class". NO WAY! The craziest part was, this student did not even provide a point during the debate, but upon reading their reflection stated things like "I was so torn by various speakers ideas. On one hand I agreed with their idea of giving back to the community and benefiting me in the long run, but on on the other hand I also agree that students are really busy and overloaded already and that we need to have the choice to do it or not. Is it even volunteer work when it's mandatory?" Yup. That was pretty much the icing on our inquiry cake that day. Critical thinking, engaged, and deep questions. We are well on our way in this inquiry journey!
Mrs. Katherine (Kate) Weber