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Teachers: Literacy: Text

Last Updated: Wednesday May 11 2005 15:02 GMT


English / KS 2&3 / En1 Speaking and Listening
3. Group discussion and interaction.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair debates in the House of Commons
Politicians spend a large part of their time debating issues in Parliament. But what are the rules of a debate and why is debating important?

Students learn the order and the rules of a formal debate.

Learning aims

By the end of the lesson, students should be able to answer these questions:

  • What is a debate?
  • How is a debate ordered?
  • What are the rules of a debate?
  • Why is debating important?

Brainstorm: Debate

Ask students:

  • Have you seen or taken part in a debate?
  • What was it about?
  • Where did it take place? Prompt: TV programme, House of Commons, House of Lords.
  • Who was taking part in the debate? Prompt: Politicians, general public, members of a group or organisation.
Make a class list of students' answers.

Ask students:

  • What is a debate?
  • If you were going to define it in a dictionary, what would you write?
Suggestion: A formal argument where groups or individuals present opposing views about a particular issue according to a set of rules.

Warm up

Re-order debating process

Explain to students that politicians in the House of Commons spend a lot of their time debating what should be made law and other issues affecting the country e.g. how money is spent on schools, hospitals and the police.

Explain that a debate is based around a suggestion or motion.

An example of a motion is: The voting age should be lowered to 16.

Explain that the people who are arguing to support the motion (usually MPs belonging to the government in the House of Commons) are called the proposers.

The people arguing against the motion (usually the opposition in the House of Commons) are the opposers.

Debating in the House of Commons

Print out a copy of this worksheet which contains a muddled debating process.

Ask students to correctly order the stages of a debate in the House of Commons.

Check their answers against the correct order:

1. The debate is chaired by the Speaker, who reads out the motion.
2. The first proposer presents the arguments for the motion.
3. The first opposer presents the arguments against the motion.
4. One of the proposers presents their arguments for the motion.
5. An opposer presents their arguments against the motion.
6. This side to side motion continues until everyone has had their say. You can only speak ONCE during the debate.
7. An opposer sums up their group's main argument.
8. A proposer sums up their group's main argument.
9. The speaker re-reads the motion.
10. Everyone votes (apart from the Speaker) by leaving the debating chamber and coming back through a door marked 'aye' or 'no.'
11. Two people, called tellers, count up the votes (bodies), as they come through each door.
12. The Speaker announces the result of the vote.

Main activity

Rules of debate

Ask students:

  • Why do you think there is a rule about people only speaking once during the debate?
  • What other rules do you think you will need to make the debate run smoothly?
Present the rules of debate used in the House of Commons to the students:
It is available as a printable worksheet.

Interior of the chamber of the House of Commons

1. The debate is chaired by the Speaker, whose decision on all matters is final.
2. You can only speak ONCE during the debate. Your speech should be about two minutes long. If you can, develop an argument rather than making a single point.
3. But you CAN 'intervene' as many times as you like. To intervene is to ask a question about a point being made. E.g. Are those statistics up-to-date?
4. You can use notes to help you with your speeches and make notes during the debate.
5. If you want to speak during the debate, you should catch the Speaker's eye by standing up as soon as someone has finished speaking. The Speaker will pick someone from those standing up.
6. If you spot someone breaking these rules you should tell the Speaker. This is called a point of order.

Holding a formal debate

The voting age should be lowered to 16.
People should be able to drive at 16.
People should be able to become an MP at 16.
Everyone should carry an identity card.
All sports that cause pain and death to animals should be made illegal.
All activities that cause pain and death to animals should be made illegal.
Every household should be entitled to a free computer.
Higher education should be free.
The UK should be part of the Economic and Monetary Union.
School uniform leads to better behaved pupils.
People who don't sort their rubbish for recycling should be charged.
All cities should have a congestion charge.

Divide students into proposers and opposers. If there is time for them to research the topic, you may want to select a motion from the blue box.

Students research and write down arguments which either support or oppose the motion.

If there is not enough time for research, they could debate the motion:

Day is better than night

Students use their creative skills to come up with arguments.

Select seven students to be:

  • Speaker. This person chairs the debate but cannot take part or vote.
  • First proposer to speak
  • First opposer to speak
  • Opposer to sum up
  • Proposer to sum up
  • Two tellers to count the votes
Hold the debate according to the formal order and rules.

Students might want to practise standing up to catch the Speaker's eye and intervening beforehand.

Extension activity

Debating guide

In groups of five, students each write a page of a debating guide, entitled:

  • What is a debate?
  • When do people debate? Prompt: When they have different opinions, often on controversial matters, when people feel strongly about the issues.
  • Who takes part in a debate? Prompt: Politicians, general public, members of a group or organisation.
  • Where do debates take place? Prompt: House of Commons and the House of Lords.
  • Why do they debate? Prompt: To look at all sides of the argument, to look at all the evidence, to come to a conclusion.
The guide should be written so that children as young as eight will be able to understand it, like the Newsround guides.

Ask students:

  • What are the advantages of debating?
  • What are the disadvantages of debating?
  • Describe the strengths of a good debater. Prompt: persuasive, confident, calm.
  • Can you think of a better way to settle a difference of opinion?
Teachers' background

Leader of the Liberal Democrats Charles Kennedy debating in the House of Commons

In the House of Commons each bill presented is given three readings. At each stage there is chance for a debate about the issue or specific clauses.

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