Formal debate as a teaching tool

Dr Susan Thorpe, Senior Lecturer

School of Psychology 

Medical Sciences

What did you do?

Held a formal debate in which 2 teams of students have to research evidence for and against a given topic and construct arguments which they present at a formal public forum.

Who is involved?

Dr Sue Thorpe, Psychology MSc students

How do you do it?

Teams consist of 6-8 members.  Three people present the arguments, one person is the discussant.

Order of speakers and time allowed is strictly controlled (see below)

Order of Speakers

Speaker 1: group 1: 3 mins
Speaker 1: group 2: 3 mins
Speaker 2: group 1: 2 mins
Speaker 2: group 2: 2 mins
Speaker 3: group 1: 1 min
Speaker 3: group 2: 1 min
Questions from the floor 5 mins
Discussant group 1: 2 mins
Discussant group 2:2 mins

-The discussant summarises the points presented by their team and responds to any points raised by the opposition

-The team members who are not speaking do the research as directed by the whole team

-Non speaking team members present this to the speakers to use in their arguments

-All team members decide on how to divide up the tasks

-No audio visual aids allowed – the arguments will be judged entirely on their force and persuasiveness

-Members of the teams not taking part in that particular debate give peer feedback and are in turn given feedback when it is their turn to debates

-The audience votes for most convincing argument

-Times are strictly enforced: students take it in turns to have custody of the timer and the bell. This is a much sought after position!

Why do you do it?

-Combats possible passivity and inattention by engaging students in a novel learning exercise.

-Raises confidence and cultural awareness

-Opens up learning

-Engages students in teamwork

-Aids critical thinking

-Allows students to explore difficult positions in a safe context

-Encourages in-depth study of a particular topic

Does it work?

The student feedback shown above is really positive and shows a number of the skills students develop by taking part.

Contact Details

Dr Sue Thorpe, Senior Lecturer


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