Julie Wakeman is a classroom teacher at Howard Community Primary School. In this guest blog, she describes her experience of using debate on the oracy strand of our Lab Classrooms programme in 2020/21.
I decided to participate in the oracy strand of Lab Classrooms as I believed by embedding it into the curriculum there was the opportunity to improve the children’s vocabulary, writing skills and respect for one another. I wanted the children to be able to articulate their thoughts respectfully, listen to one another and build on each other’s comments. So I started by setting up clear ground rules that they had to:
- Provide reasons for their opinions
- Listen quietly to each other
- Respect each other’s’ opinions
- Pay attention
- Look at the Speaker
Over the weeks, the children had the opportunity to practice this through debating sessions and other opportunities to debate in other lessons. In these debates, we looked at a range of topics including: should we have zoos, was Henry VIII a good king or not, and should we have school uniforms?
The children were given sentence stems to use in these debates to help them to frame their ideas. These sentence stems included:
A sensible idea would be to …
Interesting point, I think that…
Despite the opinion of… I think that
Interesting point, however, I believe
These sentence stems helped them to frame their comments and think about the person who had spoken prior to them. They became increasingly respectful about each other’s views and understood that everybody had a right to a different opinion. They were happy to listen to an opposing argument and would justify their own opinions with evidence.
The children came to really enjoy the debates and started to use some of the sentence stems in their conversations with each other as well. This had the added benefit of helping to improve the resolution of conflict as there was more understanding of how there could be different opinions about a topic.
It also had the desired effect of improving their writing skills. In the debates, all the children had clear arguments about what they thought on a particular topic. When given a writing task on the same topic, they were better able to articulate these ideas. The debating exercise had clearly helped with their ability to structure sentences and ability to write compelling arguments.
Even my quieter children had been happy to take part in the debates as they knew that they would be listened to and be supported by their classmates. It was great to see more confident, articulate children. I now plan to continue these techniques with future classes and hope through sharing my experience of using debate, this strategy can be embedded across the whole school.