Exercises for formal debate

Check out three exercises that will help students warm up before doing actual debates.

Just a minute!

This is a warm-up exercise that can be used in many contexts. The point is to get talking and to put a spotlight on HOW you speak.

In pairs, find the timer on your cell phone and take turns timing each other as you attempt to speak for one minute. You decide the topic that the other person should speak about, and it’s a new topic each time. These are the rules:

  • You cannot say ‘uhm’
  • You cannot repeat yourself
  • You cannot deviate from the topic
  • You cannot have any (long) pauses

Make sure you stop the other person as soon as they do any of the above. You must be the policeman here, and then you switch. Keep taking turns until the teacher tells you to stop. The teacher can also decide that the topic has to be related to a text you have read for today’s class.


If I ruled

The next exercise is one that teaches you the very fundamentals of formal debate – listening and responding and then bringing up your own arguments.

  1. First, spend 5 minutes writing down a list of things that you would do if you ruled your high school and the reasons why. For instance, you might write ‘If I ruled my high school the cafeteria would only be allowed to sell healthy food, as it enhances learning.’ Or ‘If I ruled my high school the first class would start at 10 AM, as teenage brains are more awake then.’

Write down as many things as you can think of. They can be both humorous and serious, the important thing is that you remember to include a REASON for what you want to do, it is not enough to just write what you will do.

  1. Next, stand in circles of 4-6 students. One student then presents something that he/she would do and a reason why. The student to the right has to disagree with it and give a reason for that and then present his/her own idea + reason. Continue like that in the circle until the teacher tells you to stop or you run out of ideas from your list. If a student forgets to provide a reason for either disagreeing or for their own idea, the rest of the students will remind him/her of doing that.


Sell me something

In this exercise we focus on what it means to speak persuasively and use your body language.

The teacher will get a student up in front of the class, hand her/him an item and that student then has 30 seconds to convince the rest of the class to buy the item. Do that with two more students and different items.

As each student speaks, the rest of the class has to note down the ways in which she/he is trying to convince them. How do they make use of body language, tone of voice? What do they say? Do they make much use of adjectives, do they use examples etc.

After all three students have talked, the class should offer comments on how the 3 students tried to persuade them and what worked well.

The item can both be something related to the topic you are dealing with in class, or it can be something random, or potentially humorous.

Oftentimes, it will be clear that the positive ways in which you try to convince your audience to like your item, can be transferred on to when you are ‘selling’ ideas instead. For instance, you will want to point out all the positive ways in which your item can impact an individual, a group, or society as a whole.



The content on this page is written by Charlotte Ib, who is the project manager of World Schools Debating Championships in Denmark, owns the company Do Debate! and is a teacher of English at Sankt Annæ Gymnasium.

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