In-Class Debates: Fertile Ground for Active Learning and the Cultivation of Critical Thinking and Oral Communication Skills

Kennedy, Ruth
July 2007
International Journal of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education;2007, Vol. 19 Issue 2, p183
Academic Journal
Students learn in diverse ways; therefore, instructors must utilize a wide variety of instructional strategies. Students benefit when instructors use instructional strategies that promote active engagement. In-class debates cultivate the active engagement of students, yet participation in debates is often limited to students involved in debate teams. The benefits of using in-class debates as an instructional strategy also include mastery of the content and the development of critical thinking skills, empathy, and oral communication skills. Debate as an instructional strategy, however, has its opponents. Some believe debates reinforce a bias toward dualism, foster a confrontational environment that does not suit certain students, or merely reinforce a student's existing beliefs. A variety of debate formats are described which address these criticisms including meeting-house, four-corner, fishbowl, think-pair-share, and role-play debates. Finally, issues related to the assessment of in-class debates are addressed such as whether the students are assessed individually or as a team, what aspects of the debate are assessed, and whether the instructor and/or students will do the assessment.


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