“The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” – Albert Einstein

In today’s world, kids are inundated with technology and losing the art of conversation, and even the ability to make eye contact with those around them.  That’s why debate and public speaking are essential for not only the academic world but life in general as well.

What is a debate?

A debate is a discussion surrounding an issue that has two sides: one supporting it and one opposing it.  There is also typically a judge who determines the quality of evidence and performance of each side.

What is the purpose of a debate?

The purpose of a debate is to succinctly express a point of view on a particular issue using persuasive arguments.

Why are debates useful for students?

  • Speaking in front of others can often be a challenge, so by engaging in debates, students learn to avoid speaking too quickly and to make eye contact with the audience and judges. When you make eye contact, people feel as though you’re speaking directly to them and it develops a feeling of trust.  Taking your time and speaking slowly and enunciating clearly gives the audience or judges more time to understand what you’re saying. Being prepared, staying positive, and focused allow students to become more comfortable speaking in front of groups of people.
  • Debates improve communication skills encouraging more dialogue and less confrontation. Students learn the importance of dialogue as a tool for change.  Being able to communicate clearly can open up discussions on controversial topics in a productive way which can have a positive impact on society on a larger scale.
  • When you’re thinking critically about something, you’re analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating information. Engaging in debates fosters critical thinking and conflict resolution.  Students learn to make well-reasoned and well-thought-out arguments and to question the evidence that’s presented on a certain topic.  Critical thinking skills allow students to improve their decision-making using their own observations and experiences. Students evaluate an argument’s validity and form their own opinion on an issue.  Critical thinkers are able to evaluate an argument’s validity, determine ways to improve its quality, and then form their own opinion on an issue.
  • Debates demand students thoroughly research and gather supporting evidence on a particular issue and wade through what’s relevant and real and what’s not. To construct an effective argument, you must use evidence to support the conclusion you want your audience to agree with.  Students learn to examine evidence from a variety of reputable sources and ask themselves, who gathered it, how did they gather it, and why?  Students also learn to research the opposing viewpoint in order to enhance and construct a more effective argument on their end.
  • Debates develop organizational skills that are imperative for the real world. Because they follow a certain format, students are required to follow a set of procedures on how a successful argument is constructed.
  • Debates force students to see both sides of an issue. Sometimes students are given a topic that they disagree with.  This allows for a stronger debate in examining the strengths and weaknesses on both sides.  This also shows the judges that you’ve done your research and have come to conclusion based on the information you’ve discovered.
  • Debates allow for teamwork and collaboration focusing on group skills that are essential for the real world. Students are able to work together with their classmates and have fun.
  • Debates encourage empathy. Students may not agree with the position of the argument they have been assigned, but by researching that particular point of view, they will begin to understand the perspective of someone else and thus expand their own worldview.
  • Debates improve students’ ability to listen. While the other side is presenting their point of view, students must listen for the main points while simultaneously trying to figure out how they’re going to defend those points.

How does a debate work?

  • Before beginning a debate, make sure students understand key vocabulary terms such as fact, opinion, explanation, pro, con, point, and rebuttal. Highlight the differences between facts and opinions.  Go over where to find reliable sources including what makes them reliable.
  • For beginners, it’s often a good idea to model a debate. Choose a controversial topic students can identify with and discuss reasons for and against it.
  • A debate typically begins with the side that supports the topic explaining their position and why it’s important crafting their argument in a persuasive way and then the other side follows. This is repeated and includes time for answering questions the other side has presented.  Time is also allotted for each side to present their rebuttals in an attempt to defend their position.  At the conclusion of the debate allow time for discussion with the audience or judges.

Using Debates in the Science Classroom & Science Literacy

Science Debates are a perfect learning tool for building science literacy skills by encouraging students to develop research skills, evaluate both sides of an issue, collaborate with peers, become critical thinkers, form opinions, and communicate with others who may have a different point of view.  In order to build science literacy, educators need to give students the necessary tools to become informed and avoid being misinformed on science issues. This includes teaching students how the scientific community produces information, how media and social media share the information, and how individuals encounter and form opinions on this information.

Nitty Gritty Science Debates

Nitty Gritty Science has created a debate series to support literacy by helping students absorb and understand science concepts by engaging them in meaningful, relevant discussions.  Students are more engaged when the topics they’re researching are relateable. Students are asked to consider questions surrounding controversial topics including – Are zoos beneficial for animals? Should self-driving cars be allowed on the road? Should plastic bags and packaging be banned? Should alternative methods of food supply be supported?  Should we send a human mission to Mars just because we can?

Each debate includes:

  • 8 character cards – 4 are for an issue and 4 are against it.  Assigning each student a point of view on a topic and not letting them choose a side, requires them to think about and research both sides of an issue regardless of where they stand.

  • Teacher Guide – The teacher guide follows a clear, step-by-step procedure for running a successful debate.  It offers debate-style options and objectives.

  • Student Worksheets – Whether actively debating or in the audience, students will need to research the topic, generate questions, and determine if sources are credible and the worksheets offer a structured way to complete those tasks.

  • Assessment Rubrics – One for summative grading and one for peer assessment based on behaviors of the debate team

  • Classroom Posters – Posters are also included as reminders for students during a debate helping them and encouraging them to stay on task.

Check out the Great Debates Series from Nitty Gritty Science by clicking the links below.

The Great Debate: Mission to Mars


The Great Debate: Self-Driving Cards


The Great Debate: Food Supply


The Great Debate: Plastic Ban


The Great Debate: Zoos


The Great Debate: Bundle