Digital Debate – A Unique Approach to Debating

Create a digital debate

There’s no debate here – teachers agree that debates are a great tool for engaging students, teaching critical thinking skills, developing persuasive writing techniques, and learning an appreciation for multiple viewpoints. Now there’s another bonus: debates can integrate technology.

Debating a controversial issue has traditionally been an oral exercise. But there is a fun, unique alternative: student partners use Google Slides to create a debate presentation. They pitch persuasive arguments justifying two different viewpoints on a controversial issue. The traditional structure of a debate – resolution, constructive speech, rebuttal, and summary – are maintained. However, the two students work simultaneously on the same digital document using Google Apps for Education.


Student partners debate “Should Schools Ban Junk Food?” by making an animated Google Slides presentation

Flipping this technique into a digital task not only engages students but also provides a series of benefits. Here are ten reasons to create a digital debate:

  1. Time to think: When debates are written instead of oral, students have the time to make thoughtful, meaningful, and well expressed arguments. Being able to organize and express one’s ideas when ‘put on the spot’ is a skill many students have not yet mastered.
  2. Work simultaneously: Being able to see what the opponent is writing at the same time allows the student to be mindful of the rebuttal they will have to make. As a result, opinions are written with care and attention to the facts and emotional appeals that they are trying to make.
  3. Build quality: When the opponent’s arguments can be seen, the student is encouraged to enhance the strength of their own persuasive arguments. For example, the opponent may be citing a website to support their viewpoint. As a result, the student may research their own facts to find online support.
  4. Inspire and engage: The friendly, competitive nature of debating appeals to middle school and high school students. Debating digitally can be a teaching tool that really sparks the interest of today’s media savvy students.
  5. No stress: Not everyone is comfortable in a public speaking forum. Debating through a digital presentation will engage students who are apprehensive about facing a live audience. They have the opportunity to express their viewpoints without the fear of speaking in front of their classmates. Also, when one opponent can think ‘faster on his feet’ than the other, the debate isn’t a fair match. Writing arguments as a collaborative task levels the playing field.
  6. Get a redo: Oral debates are ‘in the moment’. Spoken statements are made and cannot be improved or deleted. In a written digital debate, students have the opportunity to review, revise, and edit their arguments.
  7. Develop writing skills: A debate conducted as a digital presentation can do double duty as a persuasive writing exercise. It is not only a task that develops critical thinking, organizational skills, and collaboration, but it also integrates language arts. When writing their arguments, students can take the time to express their perspective concisely, organize supporting evidence, and develop an effective emotional or intellectual appeal.
  8. See the debate: The slide presentation includes visual cues that support the opposing viewpoints: different backgrounds, characters who represent the pro and con sides, and clip art that visually enhance the message. The visual nature of a digital debate appeals to both the debate creators and the audience.
  9. Audience participation; Using the commenting feature of Google Apps allows the audience to pose questions and cross-examine the debaters, who can then take the time to compose answers that defend their position.
  10. Have fun! Creating a debate digitally allows students to build essential cooperative skills, etiquette, and teamwork. Working together online is a learning style that holds wide appeal. When students enjoy what they are doing, learning is enhanced.

About TechnoHella

Hella Comat, Curriculum Writer - Hella Comat is a dedicated professional, who has taught in the education system for more than 30 years. As a pioneer of technology integration in Ontario public schools she was one of the first teachers to introduce the internet, video conferencing, web design, and multimedia learning activities to teachers and students in the Halton Board. To inspire teachers to use technology, she has led sessions for the Touch Technology program, ran workshops at education conferences, and sat on numerous advisory committees related to technology-issues. In recent years she taught the Computer in the Classroom course, at York University. Her lifelong commitment to teaching and learning was acknowledged when she was honored as the recipient of the Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence in Science, Technology, and Mathematics. Hella's contribution to the blog includes entries about the importance of technology integration. Drawing from her in-depth knowledge of technology in the classroom Hella writes about teaching strategies and useful resources that can benefit your practice. In addition, she provides innovative lesson ideas that you can implement into your own curriculum.