Debate can be a cornerstone of learning. It forces people to think outside their comfort zones, consider varying opinions, and ultimately delve deeper into the source material that you provide. Of course, it can sometimes be tough to get such productive debate going, so use these tips to encourage your students.
Organise Monthly Debates on Various Subjects
It can be hard for students to work on both their debating and literary skills at once, so it’s a good idea to organise debates around other subjects once every month or so. You can decide on issues that are currently in the news, or you can ask your class to put forward suggestions of their own.
Remind Students that Right Answers Don’t Exist
One of the reasons literature is an ideal subject for structured debate is that the number of interpretations of a certain work is almost endless. Professional literary critics have spent centuries arguing over whether Hamlet was mad, for example, and almost every position you can think of is possible to counter with another reading. Make sure you remind your class that you aren’t searching for a right or a wrong answer; this should make them relax into the task, and they should be more willing to explore less common views.
Set Your Students Certain Opinions
Sometimes students will take different sides of a position organically, but not always. If you want to encourage deeper debate, consider taking several issues, dividing your class up into smaller groups, and then splitting those smaller groups into teams, each of which can argue a different side of a certain point. This ensures that students will need to think more completely about certain questions, and the competitive element should make the task more exciting.
Make Sure You Act as Arbiter
Debates are great; arguments are bad. Always act as an intermediary to prevent things getting too heated. Don’t let certain students take over the conversation, and make sure you respond to all points positively. You can also direct the conversation into more fruitful avenues of discussion if you happen to see a student reaching towards an interesting idea without quite making it there independently.