We have two big debates in our 4th grade social studies each year. The first is on taxation without representation and the second on whether the colonies should declare independence from Britain. It's a structured, simplified debate. The pro side gives a prepared opening statement, then the con side gives their opening statement. While the opening statements are being read, the rebuttal team is making notes. Then first the pro rebuttal gives their points, and finally the con rebuttal gives theirs
To prepare for the debates, we divide the students into four teams - pro and con and within pro and con into opening statement or rebuttal. We provide them with points to planning either the opening statements or the rebuttals. They have two class periods to prepare and then we hold the debate. We invite a couple of teachers or administrators in to "judge" the debate. They do pick a winning side, but more importantly they are a more unfamiliar audience for the 4th graders. They also give valuable feedback and advice.
So today was the day of the debate. Preparation last week had been a bit rocky, but everything came together today. The opening statements were delivered smoothly and clearly. The rebuttals were the best we have ever had. We tell the kids that this is the most difficult role. You not only have to understand the arguments on both sides and prepare possible points, but you have to be a close listener to the opposition's opening statement so that you don't rebut something that they didn't bring up. Our two rebuttal speakers were focused and poised. The students who had to sit quietly throughout, did exactly that. It was rewarding for everyone involved.
And now they're pumped for the second debate!