Debate Lesson Plan

Instructor: Dana Dance-Schissel

Dana teaches social sciences at the college level and English and psychology at the high school level. She has master's degrees in applied, clinical and community psychology.

Is it a classroom or a court room? Introduce two types of debate for students to act out. This lesson plan makes use of a text lesson on the different kinds of debate to assist you in your instruction. Additional ideas for related activities and lessons are included for future study.

Learning Objectives:

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • outline the procedures for debate
  • demonstrate parliamentary debate and policy debate styles


1 to 2 hours


  • Index cards with age-appropriate 'hot' topics that your students will be familiar with (suggestions: women in combat, genetically-modified foods, fracking, and medical marijuana)
  • A coin

Curriculum Standards


Work with peers to promote civil, democratic discussions and decision-making, set clear goals and deadlines, and establish individual roles as needed.


Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that probe reasoning and evidence; ensure a hearing for a full range of positions on a topic or issue; clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions; and promote divergent and creative perspectives.


Present information, findings, and supporting evidence, conveying a clear and distinct perspective, such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning, alternative or opposing perspectives are addressed, and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and a range of formal and informal tasks.

Key Vocabulary

  • Parliamentary debate
  • Policy debate


  • Begin by dividing students into two teams.
  • Have students read the Defining Debate Formats and Parliamentary Debates sections of the text lesson Understanding Different Debate Formats.
  • Now have a student blindly draw one index card from the stack. This is the issue that the two teams will debate.
  • Next, have that student flip a coin to determine if his/her team will be 'in favor of' or 'opposed to' the topic. If the coin lands on heads, the team will debate in favor of the topic. If it is tails, they will be opposed to the topic. For example, if the card drawn is MEDICAL MARIJUANA and the coin lands on heads, the student's team will debate in favor of medical marijuana.
  • Assign the roles of PRIME MINISTER, LEADER of the OPPOSITION, MEMBER of the GOVERNMENT, and MEMBER of the OPPOSITION to the appropriate teams as outlined in the text lesson.
  • Have students follow the guidelines presented in the text lesson to practice debating the issue in the parliamentary debate style.
  • When the parliamentary style debate is concluded, ask students to read the Policy or Cross-Examination Debates section of the text lesson.
  • Now repeat the procedure of drawing a card and flipping the coin to designate sides.
  • Once again, ask students to debate the issue drawn, but this time have them practice in the policy debate style.
  • When the second debate is finished, have students read the remainder of the lesson.
  • Keeping the students in their teams, draw another card and flip another coin. Explain that you will serve as the judge in the next debate to determine a winner. The two teams should agree on the style of debate that will be used prior to the start of the debate and should continue to use the text lesson as a procedural guide. This process can be completed using the remaining cards, if desired.

Discussion Questions

  • What are the differences between an argument and a debate?
  • Which debate style was easier?
  • Which debate style was more effective?
  • How might the principles of debate be used in persuasion?


  • Have students compare these two debate styles to the methods used in the United States Judicial System.
  • Pair up with another class and have students use these two styles to debate pertinent school issues. Have the school's administrators serve as judges to determine the prevailing debate team.

Related Lessons

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