Academic Conversation Through Silent Debates

Academic Conversation Through Silent Debates

When I taught high school, my favorite day of the week was current event Friday because students shared about the events of the week and the class engaged in academic debate over current affairs. When I attempted to bring this same idea to middle school it flopped! It turned into arguments and hurt feelings as I quickly learned middle schoolers were not ready for such a discussion.

It has been four years since returning to middle school social studies, and last year I finally figured out a way to bring academic debate to the middle school classroom. My teaching partner and I wanted to host debates to our 8th grade Language Arts class. Fearing that it would turn out as my current events had, I wanted to find a format that would allow students to express their opinions but in a more controlled environment.

Necessity is the mother of invention, right? I had observed a class discussion that was done without talking, students were all logged into the same Google Document and typed their responses to each other with the teacher occasionally chiming in with a question or a comment. I loved that every student was able to participate, even those that were shy or needed more processing time were able to contribute. I thought, why couldn’t we do this with academic debate in social studies and thus the creation of Silent Debate!

Started with topics everyone can relate to in order to learn the process and then add topics that allow students to engage in content related topics

Students work with partner to discuss their position (this is the only opportunity for verbal conversation)

Partners work together to discuss their argument pior to the debate beginning.
Partners work together to discuss their argument pior to the debate beginning.

In groups of 4, students debate their topic in timed segments.

Students use nonverbal communication, plus writing to express their ideas.
Students use nonverbal communication, plus writing to express their ideas.

At the end, students get to read everyone’s ideas/responses and vote for the team they felt presented the stronger argument. I have them use sticky notes to cast thier vote.

Students read through concluding statements and vote for the best argument.
Students read through concluding statements and vote for the best argument.

I tried this for the first time last year with my 8th graders and they loved it asking if they could do it again. This year I will be implementing Silent Debate with my 7th grade social studies.

I’d love to hear how you engage your middle school social studies student in high academic, quality discussions.
Leave me a comment.

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