Two Things that belong in every middle and high school classroom; Debate Teams and Newspapers

The news paper is a fascinating tool to use in the classroom. I used newspapers for reading comprehension and current affairs over 13 years ago when I taught middle school language arts.

What struck me the most about using the newspaper is that not every student attained the same information from an article assigned as reading. The reading comprehension tests’ varied answers were solid proof of it.

The author of the newspaper article had a purpose and a focus in mind, yet the readers took away their own meaning. The paper reading exercise lended itself beautifully to our debate topics. Inevitably, the chosen topic for debate always made its way into the newspaper. Again students would have to go beyond the local paper we got delivered to our classroom and find articles that supported their pro or con motion for the debate, which happened at the end of each month.

My favorite thing to do when introducing the debate topic was to state the motion and then have the class discuss it openly, showing me how they felt about the topic. Whenever possible I would make those who were staunchly ‘con’ the motion debate ‘pro’ the motion for the month and vice versa.

A quick example would be “Cloning is immoral.” We read about the scottish sheep, Dolly, who was cloned and found articles in Time magazine and Newsweek that delved deeper into the ramifications of cloning. I asked the class who among them thought cloning was immoral, just plain wrong. I took note of their names, went home and drafted a poster of which teams were debating pro and con the topic and the dates they would debate. For the majority of those who raised their hands and showed their innate dislike of the idea of cloning, I made them con the motion. They had to find articles that condoned it and give reasons why it should be used.

Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes made the students a little more open-minded, accepting and respecting differing opinions.The students learned to disagree with each other courteously, they knew how to use valid facts from credible sources to support their arguements. The library became a useful tool in getting additional facts. The students learned to note take, organize their thoughts in a clear and concise way, listen to what others had to say in order to have counter facts ready to dispute their opponent’s arguments  and speak in public.

I hope the students in my classroom enjoyed debating as much as I enjoyed listening and watching them debate. I would love to see both the newspaper and debate as part of the high school curriculum in America.

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