Sunday, March 20, 2011

Debate Brackets

 This lesson was inspired by the New Times lesson plan March Madness: Using Tournament Brackets to Debate Academic Questions and the academic debate game Point-Counterpoint.  The object of the lesson is to get learners to understand the value and defend-ability of the evidence that supports the main idea of a debate topic or the thesis of a persuasive essay.  The graphic to the left is used to create a graphic representation of the different pieces of evidence in a pro vs. con strategy.  The activity takes place in two parts.  First a round of Point-Counterpoint is used to create the outside brackets.  Afterward, learners break into small groups to challenge the validity of the individual ideas.  As ideas are eliminated the brackets are narrowed until two standout concepts emerge as the most defendable topics. Small groups combine as topics are eliminated until two teams are formed.


The Point-Counterpoint game is a simple conversation game played in pairs, small group, or whole class settings.  A simple statement is made that involves one perspective of an argument.  Example: "Students should be allowed to use mobile devices in schools."  In a whole group format the instructor makes the initial statement then choses one learner to give the counterpoint statement.  Each counterpoint must be supported by a piece of evidence and must, as counterpoint, oppose the previous statement.  When the counterpoint is made ie; "Students should not be allowed to use mobile devices, because they will spend time texting instead of focusing on the appropriate task." the learner that follows must make a point that counteracts the statement previously explained.  Following this example each person makes a point or counterpoint that is either connected to the topic or one of the evidence strands that emerges through the game.  Think of it as a face to face forum discussion with each person making a post in real time.  
There are a couple of simple procedural rules that need to be followed to make the game effective.  Before you begin count of within the group so that everyone knows in advance which side of the argument they will be on.  Try to start with a different person every time you play so that each learner can develop the skills necessary for arguing either side.  Vary the topic statements each time you play.  Once the game starts no one is allowed to repeat a previous point except to disprove it.  Finally do not skip anyone.  It will force everyone else to have to change sides.  If someone is truly stuck they may be helped by someone who has already made their point but they must whisper it to the player in trouble who must state it out loud.

Playing with Brackets:

If the game is being played in combination with the bracket system then the debate points are recorded on the PRO or CON sides of the bracket accordingly.  Multiple brackets can be added to the system to accommodate the number of learners in the room.  If there are less than sixteen players then the point-counterpoint must be circled around until the all of the outer brackets are filled.  All points should be recorded onto the bracket regardless without assessment at first, unless the group feels that a point is successfully disproven by a counterpoint during the initial faze of the game.  Once the outer brackets are full learners should be broken up into teams of three to four.  Two people argue for each bracket while the third and/or four players judge the short debate.  Example:  If texting and reading email were bracketed together on the CON side of the bracket above the debaters argue to see which is a more defendable reason to appose mobile devise use for students.  The judges make a mark every time they here a valid statement that supports the debaters claim.  Which ever argument scores highest moves on to the next round.  (the losing topic is not necessarily eliminated any good evidence for the losing topic that works well can be absorbed into the winners argument for the next round.)
 Depending on the level of learners this game can take anywhere from 60 minutes to several hours but it is definitely worth playing.  It can be used to prepare for a debate or as a brainstorming session for persuasive writing or as part of presentation design.  Try it yourself and see how much fun a good argument can be.

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