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Agree to Disagree: How to Teach Students the Art of Friendly Argument

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January 03, 2024


As educators, we know that classrooms can sometimes be a battleground of opinions. Everyone has their views, and students love to argue when it comes to expressing those views. 

But are your students arguing in a healthy manner? Are they capable of respectfully disagreeing without causing hurt feelings or discord? 

In this blog post, we’ll explore the concept of friendly arguments and how to teach the art of disagreeing politely to our students.

Why Do Students Need to Know How To Argue?

kid screaming into microphone

Often, we focus mainly on teaching our students how to communicate, write, and use technology, while paying minimal attention to teaching them how to argue

Effective arguing requires a person to engage in critical thinking, evaluate their own stance, and provide a well-reasoned response. 

By developing these critical thinking skills, students learn to analyze situations from multiple perspectives, evaluate information, and use logical reasoning to support their claims. Thus, by learning how to argue, students develop a valuable life skill that will be advantageous in their future careers.

Arguing also helps students learn how to express their ideas and opinions confidently and effectively. When engaging in a debate, students learn to convey their message more concisely and directly, so that others can easily understand and grasp their perspective. 

And by learning how to argue effectively, students also develop the confidence and independence that is essential for leadership. Leaders with strong arguing skills are more likely to develop a clear vision and articulately communicate it to others, leading to a more cohesive team and better organizational outcomes. 

Of course, effective arguing requires students to manage their own emotions and understand those of others. With time and practice, students learn to be empathetic and constructive in their communication with others. 

Learning to sympathize with the opposing perspective encourages students to be more respectful and understanding of other people’s beliefs and opinions, which is an essential aspect of developing emotional intelligence that will last a lifetime.

How Do You Teach Debating Skills?

two people arguing

Debating is an essential skill for children to learn, especially as they grow older. Not only does it improve their critical thinking and public speaking abilities, but it also helps them to be more open-minded and empathetic towards other viewpoints.

Here are some tips to teach it.

1. Start With a Purpose

Start with a goal in mind when teaching debating skills to your students. Explain to your students why you are teaching them to debate. Let them know what they will gain from the experience and encourage them to see the relevance of debating skills in their lives. 

In doing so, they will be more invested in the process, and it’ll help them to understand the significance of the practice.

2. Work in Groups

Working in groups is vital when it comes to teaching debating skills. You should create groups that include different levels of abilities to encourage students to learn from each other. 

This approach also makes the process more dynamic, fun, and collaborative, which is a recipe for success. When students work in groups, they develop empathy, communication, and leadership skills, all of which will be valuable in their future academic and personal lives.

3. Choose Relevant Topics

The topic of your debates should be relevant to your students’ interests and age groups. It’s essential to choose topics they are familiar with so that they can develop their arguments and understand the other side of the debate. 

This approach not only makes the debate more engaging but also allows them to learn more from the process. You should also consider choosing controversial topics that evoke emotion, as they usually lead to exciting debates and analytical discussions.

4. Make Sure Everyone is Involved

One of the most critical aspects of teaching debating skills is involving all your students in the process. However, it can be challenging to ensure everyone has a say in the discussions, especially when working in groups. You can ensure that everyone is involved by assigning roles such as timers, note-takers, and moderators.

As an alternative, you can give everyone timed opportunities to speak, making sure everyone contributes and feels like they are part of the debate.

5. Try Competitions

One of the best ways to teach debating skills is through competitions. Competitions are a great way to motivate students and develop their competitive spirits. They also encourage students to research, prepare, and present their arguments more effectively. 

One popular type of competition is called “Debate tournaments,” where students compete in pairs against other teams. 

Another type of competition is “Mock Trial,” where students act out a legal case in front of a judge and jury. Whatever the competition, students will learn the importance of research, preparation, and presentation.

6. Give Students Tips and Space for Cooling Off

Debating can be intense and emotional, especially for young students. They might feel anxious or overwhelmed during the process. Therefore, it is essential to provide them with some tips and space. 

For instance, you can assign a quiet room or area where students can take a break or “cool off” if they need it. Also, share some tips like “breathe slowly and deeply” or “focus on your notes” to help them feel more relaxed and in control.

7. Share, Listen, Check

Debating is not only about presenting arguments but also about active listening and constructive feedback. Encourage your students to share their opinions and listen to their classmates or teammates. 

When giving feedback, ask them to “check” their statements for accuracy, relevance, and clarity. For instance, “Is this statement accurate?” “Does it relate to the subject matter?” “Is it clear enough for the audience to understand?”

8. Encourage Students to Take Responsibility

Debating is a collaborative process. However, each student should take responsibility for their part in the process. Encourage your students to prepare and research their arguments independently. This will help them develop critical thinking skills, research skills, and responsibility.

9. Have Them Brainstorm Solutions

Debating is not only about identifying problems but also about finding solutions. Encourage your students to brainstorm solutions to current social, environmental, or political issues. This will encourage creativity, innovation, and collaboration.

10. Be Sure to Affirm, Forgive, Thank

Building a healthy and supportive environment in your classroom is key to teaching debating skills. Students need to feel comfortable sharing their ideas, making mistakes, and accepting feedback. Encourage positive affirmations along with constructive feedback. Focus on the act of debating, not on individual mistakes.

11. Encourage Them to Shift Perspectives and Roles 

Switching perspectives enables students to understand different viewpoints and helps them internalize the process of debating. 

Enabling students to take on different roles in the debate, whether they play devil’s advocate or someone who differs in their opinions, encourages them to look at the topic from a range of different perspectives.

12. Try Peer Mediation Strategies 

Incorporating peer mediation strategies into your debates empowers students to learn how to consider the opinions of others carefully. 

However, it’s vital to provide proper instruction and support to both the mediator and the students in the debate.

13. Practice De-Escalation Strategies

De-escalation strategies can help students manage conflicts and avoid personalizing discussions. Teach your students how to recognize when conflicts are escalating, and provide them with techniques to avoid getting caught up in them.

14. Use Social Stories

Social stories are a technique that is often used to improve behavior in children with autism. They use stories to help the students understand what is expected of them in situations. 

Social stories can also be used to reinforce debate skills. Engage students through peer modelling, where their teammates or friends demonstrate how to structure a debate. The same team members can provide the students with constructive feedback. 

Effective communication skills can be taught through positive reinforcement, making important traits like patience, respect, and collaboration valuable tools in effective communication.

15. Ask for Feedback 

The last tip we will discuss is to ask the students for feedback. Get a sense of how they feel about debating and what they think would make the lessons more engaging. Offering feedback can help students understand the value of their opinions and improve their confidence in their debating abilities. 

By asking for their thoughts, educators can improve their teaching and adapt their curriculum according to the needs of the students. 

The Takeaway

man and woman arguing

Teaching students about the art of friendly arguments is an essential part of a well-rounded education. It helps them understand that conflict is not inherently bad, and that learning how to express themselves clearly and productively, even in disagreement, is imperative. 

It might take time, practice, and lots of patience, but by giving students tools to engage in constructive debates and discussions, educators can set them up for success in the classroom and beyond. 

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a passionate special education teacher with [number] years of experience, uses her classroom knowledge to craft engaging stories that celebrate the unique strengths of all learners.