Debates, dilemma debates, discussions, and roleplaying.
Debates seem to be more so implemented in secondary classrooms. However, they can be started at an elementary level as well, especially between fourth to sixth grades. A more traditional debate forum involves one team starting with their first speaker and then the second team going next along with time to rebuttal. The Noisy Classroom has some suggestions on how to structure a debate for the classroom. I would not, however, start with such a structure right away. I started off by providing time to the students to think about the topic and make a pros and cons list.
Here is one example on the topic should schools require uniforms:
A list of arguments in favour of school uniforms can include:
Easy to get ready for school
Costs less overall
Easy to find students
A list of arguments against school uniforms can include:
Needs to be washed regularly
As a rule of thumb, teachers may want to start with a simpler topic that will help build the student's thinking skill. The idea is to scaffold the topics to ensure that students start with something relatively simpler to build an understanding of both sides to the argument/conversation.
Then I settled them into teams of either for or against. The students would take a minute to think of their arguments and then be called up to square off with the other team. Once students learn how to come up with arguments and present them in a logical manner then the teacher can provide a more in-depth introduction of the debate structure.
In classrooms with students from fourth to sixth grades, it is essential not to select topics that are more relevant for high school and college students. This is because the students require knowledge about the topic in order to speak about it and certain topics make more sense at an elementary level (e.g. should parents be allowed to hit their children) while other topics (e.g. abortion) are more appropriate for older students.
Dilemma debates are also an interesting way to bring forward debating to the classroom. I stepped into the classroom one day and gave the students a dilemma. It was based on Garret Hardin's "lifeboat ethics" metaphor. I read about this in a college Humanities course by an exceptional teacher named Michael O'Brien. Based on this text, I asked my students, if you were on a boat that was sinking, "What would you do? Who would you remove if you had to? Would you eat another person if you had no other food options?" The debate ensued. I remember bringing this forward to the classroom and pushing students to provide reasons for their answers. I also recall adding myself into the boat, which was a major let-down. Almost all the students agreed that I would be kicked out to save the boat from sinking because I was taller and heavier. You would think that the students would spare the teacher, but I guess not.
Again, The Noisy Classroom, mentions the Balloon Debate where people are coming down from a hot air balloon and the passengers have to be thrown off to save some lives. That one is also a fun dilemma debate. The trolley problem is another one that is widely known, but I have not tried it out yet. As much as all of this sounds dramatic, I also use dilemmas that are more relevant and immediate to the students. In India, a major issue is the problem of littering. In the United States, half way around the world, dilemmas often arise around gun violence. These dilemmas attack the very livelihood of our students and it is also important to bring them towards such topics as the rigour of these debates build.
There are certain themes that we have done in our classroom that really make for a fun roleplay integration. In our units on oceans and underwater creatures, I asked the students to come up with a scene between two underwater creatures. Similarly, we also did a roleplay between two people playing in the snow when we learned about weather in another unit.
There are two ways to go about using roleplays in the classroom that I find work well:
The first way is to connect the roleplay to the thematic unit. This provide scope to students to speak about the themes they are exploring in the unit by acting it out in a roleplay. For example, if the students are learning about transportation such as being on a plane then allow them to create a roleplay around taking a flight to Paris or getting ready for a trip abroad. These roleplays can be both imaginary and real, which make them all the more fun.
The second way is to connect the roleplay to the real world. By doing so, students put themselves into someone else's shoes or act like themselves in a certain event or situation. For example, students can work in a restaurant as a waiter and customer. Or students can be asked to have a conversation over the phone.
The whole point around giving feedback in speaking and listening is to ensure that our students become better and finer speakers. There are several ways to give feedback that makes learning also more relevant:
In-the-Moment Modelling: This one is easier to implement depending on the relationship between the teacher and the students. If the relationship is strong and based on trust (and this does take time to build), I recommend introducing in-the-moment coaching. This is when a teacher steps in during the roleplay and models something they want the group and others to do. For example, imagine a group of students are having a conversation over the phone about their homework. You notice the students are speaking clearly and using full sentences, but they are not listening to each other all. Instead they just end up talking over each other.
Model It Later: As groups present, take short hand notes of what happens in each group. What do they all do well? What do they not do so well? Then take a quick glance over the notes and see what the commonality is between the groups in both regards. The next day, you can point out what the groups do well by saying, "I really love how all the groups are able to use their voices clearly when speaking." However, "I notice that we all need to work on using gestures a bit better, so today I am going to model that in my own roleplay."
Peer Feedback: The speaking and listening menu is something we use readily in our class. Students use that as a point of reference when giving feedback to each other. You may decide on another structure to support students in giving feedback, but make sure there is some sort of structure that helps them give clear and consistent feedback.
Self Feedback: At the end of each roleplay, I often asked the team to give feedback to themselves. It provides me with an idea of how accurate they are able to assess themselves. Again, I refer them to the speaking and listening menu as a way to ensure self-feedback is clear and guided.