Gail Roberts is the More Able and Talented Coordinator at Challenge Award-accredited Llanfoist Fawr Primary School, and a Golden Ambassador for Parliament. In this blog post, she shares seven simple steps to transform your classroom into a heated debating hall…
In 2017 I had the privilege of spending four days in Parliament as part of an education programme for teachers. This really opened my eyes to how important it is for our young people to fully understand our democratic system, issues in the UK and wider world – and to develop the confidence and skills to articulate their opinions and critically analyse what is being said to them.

These are skills we shouldn't take for granted. As Alan Howe points out in this recent contribution to the Oracy Cambridge website, somewhere between 25% and 60% of adults (depending on which survey you consult) say they have a fear of public speaking – putting this above visits to the dentist and even death in our list of terrifying prospects. This anxiety, Howe argues, is avoidable – and is likely to be "directly related to the way that experience of  ‘public speech’ is limited earlier in our lives by what happens in classrooms."
Of course, there's more to public speaking or debating than simply having the confidence to speak in front of others. Developing debating skills brings a broad range of benefits for all young people, including more able learners – including increased confidence and self-esteem; expanded vocabulary choices; strengthened skills in standard English and message delivery; the confidence to form and voice opinions (and to change their mind!); active listening skills; ability to build on others’ ideas and to articulate arguments effectively; and an awareness of social etiquette and behaviour for respectful and thoughtful exchange.
These skills can be extended to enrich and develop learning across all areas of learning, as well as providing key life skills – the confidence and ability to speak in front of a range of audiences; to form decisions independently rather than “following the crowd”; to recognise and analyse bias; to “read around” a subject and research thoroughly on both sides; and to engage in discussions when faced with those holding opposing views.
Keen to get your learners debating? Here are seven steps to get started…

1. Log on to Parliament TV 

To get started, choose a live or recorded debate to watch online via the House of Commons or National Assembly for Wales websites. Discuss the language used, the conduct of the speaker, standard forms of address and body language.  

2. Choose a controversial topic 

Challenge learners to choose a topic of debate that will fuel discussion. Spilt the class into “for” and “against”. Give them time to discuss the reasons for their views within each group.

3. Clarify key points 

Padlet is a free online platform which I’ve found useful at this stage in the process. Challenge learners to present their views in a few convincing sentences using a range of oracy techniques for impact – for example, rhetorical questions and direct appeals to listeners. Post these statements onto your Padlet wall for the whole class (and any other invited audiences) to view.  

4. Evaluate  

Invite learners to critically evaluate the posted views, and to think of responses to the views put forward by the opposition.

5. Record, listen, improve

Using the audio setting in Padlet, learners can record their statements, listen back and make improvements. This gives them time to ensure intonation, expression, silence and tone are used effectively, before they enter the debating zone.

6. Commence the debate 

Set up your classroom so the two groups are facing one another. Position yourself centrally to chair the debate – once learners are familiar with the process, they can take it in turns to be Chair. Establish the ground rules. Anyone who has something to say, stands. The Chair then invites him/her to speak. The rest of the class sit and listen. Once the speaker has sat down again, repeat. It is best when the pace is kept fast. Encourage learners to address the opposition rather than face the Chair, and to speak and respond without using or making notes – the preparation stages should mean they have a good foundation of ideas and persuasive techniques to draw on.

7. Reflect and relate

At the end of the debate ask if anyone has changed their opinion. Allow learners to swap sides. Discuss who or what persuaded them to change their mind, and how/why. Discuss how these examples and strategies relate to real-life situations such as politics or advertising.
Gail Roberts is the MAT Coordinator, Maths Coordinator and Year 5 teacher at Llanfoist Fawr Primary School in Monmouthshire. She has worked in education since 1980, starting out as an NNEB with children with severe difficulties in basic life skills, and gaining her NPQH in 2007. Llanfoist Fawr gained the NACE Challenge Award in 2017, in recognition of school-wide commitment to high-quality provision for MAT learners within a context of challenge for all.

Read more from Gail: 7 strategies to develop oracy skills for all learners

Header image: ID 3492966 © Orlando Florin Rosu
Monday, December 3, 2018