Speed Debating in the ELA Classroom

If you want to see me plan a GREAT lesson, don’t come find me on a Sunday afternoon when I’ve deliberately set aside a chunk of time for some hardcore planning. I’ll be priming my brain with coffee, staring at my blank page of plans, and sitting so close to (but not actually opening) a stack of teacher books that they just might give me some plans via some weird form of osmosis…but I won’t be producing the creative, original ideas that every teacher craves.

Nope. Those bad boys have a mind of their own.

Instead, these ideas happen late at night, as I’m laying in bed, calculating the hours of sleep I’ll get (and consequently planning my next day’s nap), when I’m driving to the school in the morning, thinking of how “eh” my current plan sounds, halfway through the school day when I’ve already taught the lesson to half my classes and realize how lame it actually is, or sometimes even a whole unit later, when I get random inspiration and mentally file an amorphous idea in the “maybe next year” corner of my brain…the list goes on.

These spontaneous “ah-ha” moments have actually encouraged me to sometimes procrastinate  purposely wait until the last minute to really plan in an attempt to coax the creative genius out of its hiding spot. I’ll have one of those “eh” plans as a placeholder to alleviate the natural stress of truly not knowing what the H-E-double-hockey-sticks you’re going to do with over 100 children the next day. But then I’ll just sit back, relax, and play the waiting game. 

(Disclaimer: I am not necessarily advocating this method. It’s certainly not for everyone, but it weirdly works for me.)

Such was the case on Thursday night. I stayed after school to get organized and start planning for next week, even though I didn’t absolutely love my plans for the next day. I was actually gathering my things to leave for the night when I glanced up at my hot mess of desks, which had been mysteriously rearranged over Fall Break. (I had been too lazy to put them back in their original formation, and this week had been a free-for-all, with the kids sitting wherever they wanted). A few of the desks were in pairs, facing each other. Earlier during the day, I had remarked to the students in those face-off style desks that it looked like they were speed dating. It had been a simple joke that made them laugh and fake flirt for a few seconds, but now, the idea was rooting itself in my mind as a potential lesson plan.

Trying to capitalize on this still-abstract idea,  I quickly rearranged all of my desks in pairs facing each other. I had no concrete plan, but once my desks were rearranged, I had no choice but to sit down and actually map this madness out. I had taken the time to rearrange my entire room, so I couldn’t chicken out now. All I really had was “speed dating” and a new seating arrangement. 

Luckily, all it took was a pun (typical me) to set the idea in motion: speed debating. After all, we were learning about rhetorical appeals and devices and would soon be starting research for our formal debates.  I figured that my kids could “speed debate” with each other while using ethos, pathos, logos, and all of the rhetorical devices we had just reviewed. I whipped up over 20 different topics, some silly and some serious, and made them into little placards that could stand on each pair of desks. I created a student worksheet that required tracking of the appeals and devices, and then I worked out the logistics of the timing and rotations for the mini-debates. Then, I made a “Welcome to Speed Debating” sign that I could display on my projector as my students walked in. I even began to “decorate” each pair of desks with some cute Target Dollar spot tins I had around my classroom. Then, in standard If You Give a Mouse A Cookie fashion, I realized I needed to go to Target. (Stay tuned for If You Give a Teacher a Reason to go to Target in 2017). I needed approximately 3 more tins and something to put inside the tins, of course. I settled on candy for the tins. Although I’ve never done speed dating, I imagine there are refreshments, because food makes everything, including awkward dates, better, right? (Can someone quote me on this?) If nothing else, the candy would be some good old-fashioned bribery.  I was indeed a little worried about my quiet students who dislike talking to others, and my reluctant students, whose negative attitudes might not mesh with my interactive plan.


This is what my classroom looked like before the “speed debating” began.

As it turned out, I didn’t even need to bribe my students. As soon as I began the timer for the first round of speed debates, I knew this random late-night lesson plan was “the one.” The lesson of my dreams. My little golden nugget. My new prized possession. It was the best of the best, the kind of lesson that makes you want to stand on a mountaintop and shout to your administrators, “COME OBSERVE ME, NOW!”

I am not exaggerating when I say that EVERY SINGLE STUDENT was engaged. It was one of those days when all I had to do was circulate throughout the room and “watch the magic happen.” As I walked around listening in on the debates, this is what I saw: the “quiet” kids coming out of their shells, animatedly speaking to their partners in ways that I had never witnessed before,  the “reluctant” students smiling and laughing, a clear violation of their typical “too cool for school” motto, the “talkers,” gesticulating wildly as they passionately argued their topics, and everyone in between, more engaged than I ever thought possible. (Check out this video on my Instagram if you don’t believe me: The Magic Happening!)

TRICKED YA! MADE YA LEARN! I thought to myself while sporting the maniacal teacher grin that naturally comes with making kids have so much fun that they forget they’re actually learning. (This is what we LIVE for, am I right?!)

img_2097It was so fun, in fact, that I am now unsure of how I can ever top that lesson. Was that my peak as a teacher? The climax of the semester?  Is it all downhill from here? What happens next?  How will I return to normalcy after the thrill of speed debating? I feel like a kid on December 26th: You mean I have to wait a whole YEAR for the magic to happen again?

I’ll be over here grappling with the post-perfect-lesson blues, but if you want to experience the same kind of exhilarating lesson, you can check out my complete resource here: Speed Debating: Engaging Activity to Practice Debate, Ethos, Pathos, & Logos. While you’re at it, you may want to check out what I call my second-best lesson, too: Rhetorical Devices in Songs: Engaging & Kinesthetic “Question Trail” Activity (It fits perfectly with Speed Debating and will also get EVERYONE up and moving and having fun).





  1. November 1, 2016 / 1:50 pm

    This is how I plan too…except I’m sound asleep by 9 every night, so I’m using planning on the way to work. 😉 Ha! I love how this activity has no choice but to engage EVERY student. So much of class discussions happen with a handful of students, and that is a shame. Good work!

    • November 1, 2016 / 2:25 pm

      Thanks! I do the planning on the way to work too, haha! 🙂 It may or may not have happened this morning…I do love how this leaves no choice–and if for some reason, a kid did try to avoid participation, it would be so easy to tell and keep the student accountable!

  2. prestoplans1
    November 1, 2016 / 11:23 pm

    How AWESOME is this? This is such a fun and engaging idea that I think could work in almost any classroom. It takes the pressure off those students who are reluctant to speak and allows them to share their viewpoints in a less stressful way. I LOVE it. Super creative.

    • November 4, 2016 / 8:15 pm

      Thanks so much! This definitely gave those kiddos a low-risk opportunity to work on their debate skills, which is why I loved it! They’re the ones who need it the most, but the ones who can be the most difficult to engage during public speaking activities.

  3. November 2, 2016 / 2:17 am

    What a fun idea! As an introvert, the pair-based setting WOULD help one like me out of my shell. I like the tracking sheet for taking notes and requiring accountability.

    • November 4, 2016 / 8:15 pm

      Thanks! I was quite shy and afraid of public speaking in high school, so I know I would have appreciated this too.

  4. The Daring English Teacher
    November 2, 2016 / 2:38 am

    This sounds like such a fun way for students to demonstrate their understanding. Thank you for sharing.

  5. November 2, 2016 / 10:03 pm

    I can completely relate to your style of planning. I too feel like I get some of my best moments when I wait until the last minute or when I’m tossing and turning. Can I just tell you that I absolutely LOVE the idea of Speed Debating! Not only does it sound like an incredibly fun activity for students, but I also think it’s a great no pressure way to get students to start thinking critically and learning how to collaborate with their peers. I will definitely be sharing this post with my ELA teacher friends! Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  6. November 2, 2016 / 11:55 pm

    Just bought it! I can’t wait to try speed debating with my students and “trick” them into learning, too. And I can really relate to your “random inspiration” moments. I get mine in the shower or when I’m driving, which makes me crazy because I’m afraid I’m going to forget my ideas before I can write them down.

    • November 4, 2016 / 8:17 pm

      I am glad I am not the only crazy English teacher out there! 🙂 Thanks for your purchase…I hope your kiddos enjoy it just as much! You’ll have to let me know how it goes.

  7. November 3, 2016 / 12:42 am

    I’m dying to try this for my debate and rhetoric unit. I think that if I would have started with this, some of my students’ formal debates would have been much stronger. Great idea!

    • November 4, 2016 / 8:19 pm

      That’s what I am thinking/hoping. Our formal debates start next week, but I am already feeling so much more confident (and I think they are, too). It definitely reinforced debate structure and terminology, which always helps!

  8. November 3, 2016 / 1:42 am

    Love the opening to your blog! It’s really creative and well-written. I teach ethos, pathos, and logos and look forward to trying this lesson with my little freshies. Thanks so much!

    • November 4, 2016 / 8:22 pm

      Aw, thank you! That is the best compliment. This blog is new, and I am still finding my niche…trying to strike a balance between creativity & helpful info for fellow teachers. 🙂 I hope your freshies have as much fun with this as my juniors did! Thanks again.

  9. Addie Williams
    November 3, 2016 / 2:10 am

    Ha ha… I’m glad I’m not the only one who flies by the seat of their pants! I wish we taught formal debating in my district as this is such a great lesson!


    • November 4, 2016 / 8:24 pm

      I am glad I’m not alone… 🙂 That’s sad that you don’t get to teach it! I love this stuff, so in all honestly, I just threw it in my American Studies curriculum when I started teaching because I believe it’s so valuable. It does fit perfectly with the texts we study for American Revolution, so I can make the case for spending time on it.

  10. November 5, 2016 / 4:20 pm

    I usually get my best ideas in the shower or when I am *just* about to fall asleep and love to “trick” my kids into learning too! I am sure they would LOVE this! Thanks!

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