Debating is a powerful teaching tool because it covers a range of subject areas and outcomes, as well as helping build social and emotional skills, critical thinking and being something real that students can engage with, rather than an abstract exercise.
2025 isn't that far away. The World Economic Forum reports that adults will likely need the ten skills listed below to thrive in the workplace in 2025:
· Complex problem solving
· Critical thinking
· People management
· Coordinating with others
· Emotional intelligence
· Judgement and decision making
· Service orientation
· Cognitive flexibility
Debating helps students develop these skills and be ready to tackle whatever challenges come their way.
2. Leadership Skills
Debating provides the opportunity for students to develop important leadership skills such as public speaking, teamwork, communication and being able to argue a point of view in a positive, calm and logical manner. Debating helps students to consider different perspectives and ideas and teaches students how to stand up for something they believe in, how to have their voice heard and how to share their ideas with others.
3. Social Skills
Debating is often referred to as a “team sport” because students work in teams. Usually when a debate is adjudicated, the team will receive a score as a whole rather than as individuals. As such, it’s important that team members learn to help and support each other to improve the performance of the team as a whole. Not only does debating teach teamwork and collaboration skills, but students also need to learn to negotiate with each other, discuss and resolve differences of opinion, make decisions as a team, solve problems, ensure that everyone’s ideas are heard, develop accountability as a team and learn to communicate well with others.
4. Thinking Skills
At the heart of debating is a dedication to thinking logically and critically. Students need to question the information and sources they find, explore different aspects and perspectives of a topic and seek ways to argue a particular point of view. Students also need to look for logical fallacies and flaws in the arguments of others, to back up their opinions with evidence and to rebut opposing information. Debating also provides a surprising number of opportunities for students to think creatively too – in coming up with ideas relating to their topic, in making their presentations interesting and effective, in ways to be persuasive and more. Debating is a wonderful activity for developing strong minds!
5. Real-life Learning
Debating programs offer students a way to have their ideas and voices heard in a whole new way. Students become deeply engaged when they are debating topics that are relevant to them, are topical in their communities or that may even lead to some kind of real change. Students can be involved in debating a local issue and then using their research to write letters to the editor of a newspaper or to local politicians. They could also debate decisions that affect them as students, class or school community members. Debating topics that students care about often lead to students developing ideas about ways to improve a situation or make a difference. A debate in front of another class, parents or another school is a real experience that can be very exciting for students and it is great preparation for situations where they may have to speak in public about something.
6. Integrated Learning
As mentioned previously, debating can be integrated into a class program by choosing topics that relate to a current area of study or to the students’ interests. This means that students are researching their debate topic for the purposes of a debate rather than for tasks with no real-world application. Here are just a few of the skills involved in debating that cross a variety of subject areas include:
· Digital and manual research skills
· Learning to find evidence to support an argument or position
· Learning to distinguish credible sources of information
· Finding and interpreting data
· Reading and summarising information
· Creating summaries or dot points
· Considering different perspectives on a topic
· Using technology for research
· Structuring a talk or essay (how to write an introduction, conclusion, points, examples etc)
· Collaboration and teamwork skills
· Public speaking skills
· Developing confidence in working with others and communicating ideas
· Learning how to speak or write persuasively
7. Covering the Curriculum
Debating covers many curriculum outcomes from the learning areas of English and Humanities & Social Sciences in particular. Specific outcomes that are covered are shown in Section 6 of this handbook. Debating topics can also be crafted to include outcomes from Mathematics, Science, The Arts, Physical & Health Education and Technologies.
8. NAPLAN and High School Preparation Debating can be an excellent way of helping students to prepare for the persuasive writing section of NAPLAN testing, as well as learning how to structure their thoughts and writing in other areas too. Students learn the skills of persuasive writing through an activity that is much more engaging, collaborative and hands-on. Many schools now are finding that introducing students to debating in Year 6 is also a great way to help students prepare for high school where they will encounter more tasks such as essay writing and independent research. A debate essentially has very similar components to an essay and many teachers are finding that students who have participated in debating programs in primary school have an advantage in tackling the academic work of high school.
Those are just 8 of the many benefits of debating. As Barak Obama once said, “When students participate in debate, they learn to study issues in depth and from perspectives, a skill I use everyday in the Senate."