This is a sample assignment including complete instructions for completion and expectations for grading. In it, groups of six students have a debate on a controversial topic, developing both sides of the argument and engaging with each others’ viewpoints.
This assignment uses Kialo’s clear Pro and Con structure to facilitate structured debate online, something very difficult to do using the discussion board features of traditional learning management systems. This can facilitate higher-quality student engagement in purely online classes. It can also free up class time in traditional face-to-face classes while providing students with extra time to engage in meaningful participation and debate, increasing opportunities for students to participate in meaningful classroom discussion. Additional adaptations use Kialo’s built-in tools for collaboration, revision and voting to encourage the sort of high quality debate and self-reflection crucial to developing critical reasoning skills.
This assignment is designed to take two days for students to complete, and involves about one hour of work for each participating student. This sample assignment is adapted from an assignment pitched at college students, but can easily be adapted to different age groups - for example, middle school students might participate in discussions during a scheduled library period, rather than as a homework task.
This assignment assumes that teachers will set up Kialo discussions for their students in advance. For more information on setting up Kialo assignments of all kinds, see Setting Up an Assignment. You can also explore a demo of a debate for this type of Kialo assignment here. If you’re exploring Kialo for the first time, we also have a set of simple guides to integrating Kialo into your classroom.
Content this article covers:
- Basic Assignment
- Suggestions for Adaptation
Learning Outcomes Associated with this Assignment:
- Defend a view using reasons appropriate for public discussion
- Provide clear reasons for and against holding a view
- Communicate respectfully with others while discussing controversial issues
- Consolidate understanding of content covered in recent classes
In this assignment, you will be creating a Kialo debate with your classmates. You will be arranged into groups of six. Three of you will be assigned to the Pro starting side, and three of you will be assigned to the Con starting side.
Step One: Initial Arguments
You will be invited to the Kialo discussion set up for the debate your group has been assigned.
Your first step will be to start making arguments. You should create at least five claims that support your side of the argument. Pay attention to the arguments that your classmates are making. If someone has made a claim that you were planning on making, you can provide additional evidence or support for that point in the form of a Pro beneath their claim. Textual evidence from the class readings and links to outside research can both be used to make effective Pros.
Step Two: Follow-Up Arguments
Once your classmates have added their initial claims, you should start to respond to the arguments on the other side. Read through what the opposing side has posted, and write at least two Cons to those claims. Then write at least one Con to a claim on your own side. As long as you meet this minimum, you are now free to add as many claims to both sides as are appropriate.
First, let me be clear: the purpose of this assignment is not to “win” the debate. The purpose of the assignment is to make the best argument that you can for both sides. Additionally, you are not being graded in competition with your classmates. It is possible for everyone to do well on an assignment, and it is possible for everyone to do poorly. You will be graded on both the debate process and the final product.
In grading process, I will consider the following questions:
- Did you complete each part of the assignment in a timely fashion?
- Did you interact respectfully with your fellow participants?
- Did you show a good faith effort to improve both sides of the argument?
- Did you play a leadership role in the success of the debate?
In grading the final product, I will consider the following questions:
- Content: Did you and your classmates correctly identify and explain the relevant positions?
- Content: Did you and your classmates use classroom material when it was appropriate, and did you correctly convey what that material meant?
- Format and organization: Did you and your classmates articulate the whole argument in a clear way?
- Format and organization: Were individual claims clear and concise?
- Format and organization: Did you and your classmates organize the overall tree in a way that made sense?
- Grammar, style and tone: Were claims grammatically correct and stylistically appropriate?
Note that with the final product points, points will generally be assigned to the whole group. However, if one or more members showed particular leadership, and contributed to the content I may grade them more highly (thus, even if a particular group does not meet the expectations of the assignment, it is still possible for you to get full credit if you did everything you could to make the group successful). By the same token, if one or more members created particular obstacles to the group (e.g. initial claims that were misrepresented the material, sloppy grammar and mechanics, unclear claims that the group needed to spend time fixing), I reserve the right to lower their grade relative to the rest of the group.
Suggestions for Adaptation
Below are some ways to extend this assignment or adapt it to different learning objectives or age groups.
Add in a Revision Phase
In this step, students work collaboratively to improve the entire argument, not just their own points.
This step would take two additional days and about an hour and a half of additional work. It would be appropriate for students in the last year of high school or at the college level.
Additional learning outcomes:
- Revise initial draft for clarity, strength and organization
- Collaborate with others
- Adopt and consider multiple perspectives
Additional Student Instructions:
Step [x]: Clean Up and Strengthen the Argument
Now that you and your classmates have made good arguments on both sides, your goal is to make the whole debate as strong as you can. You should go through all claims, not just your own, and suggest any improvements that will help them be as on-topic, clearly-stated, and well-supported as possible. At this point, it does not matter what side you were initially on. You should now work as a group to make the best case for both sides. You should use the “comments” and “chat” features in Kialo to coordinate your work.
Add in a Voting Phase
In this step, students use Kialo’s voting feature to evaluate the effectiveness of individual arguments in the debate.
This step would take about a half hour of additional work. It would be appropriate for students at any level.
Additional learning outcomes:
- Evaluate the persuasiveness of arguments
- Consider evidence for and against a view to make a decision
Additional Student Instructions
Step [x]: Vote
Use the voting feature to vote on the strength of the overall thesis of the debate as well as how well each claim supports it. Think not only about your personal views on the thesis as a whole, but about how strong you judge individual claims to be, irrespective of what side they are on.
Add in a Reflection Phase
In this step, students complete a reflection piece on the debate process. This can be useful in helping instructors grade students for the whole assignment.
This step would take about an hour of additional work. It would be appropriate for students at a high school or university level.
Additional learning outcomes:
- Synthesize multiple learning activities
- Evaluate one’s own actions and contributions to a group project
Additional Student Instructions
Step [x]: Summarize
Now is your chance to reflect on the debate as a whole. Write a short summary of the activity. You should address how the group worked as a whole as well as what you in particular contributed. Did your group do as well as you could? Did you do as well as you could? What did you learn? What challenged you the most? What was the most frustrating part of the debate? Did your opinion stay the same or did you change your mind?
Your answer to these questions can be short. You should be able to answer them in two or three short paragraphs. I will use them, as well as my observations of each debate, to assign your grade for the assignment.
Changes to Scale and Group Size
While this assignment assumes groups of six students completing an assignment over two days, depending on the learning outcomes and weight you wish to place on this assignment, you may wish to modify these assumptions. You may wish to change:
- The number of students in a group - for larger groups, it may be necessary to revise down the minimum number of claims students are required to create or add in a Revision Phase to minimize duplicated content.
- The minimum number of claims students are required to create - increasing the number of claims students are required to create increases the time it will take to complete the assignment and pushes students to dig deeper into the question at hand.
- The time students have to complete the assignment - more time to complete the assignment means more time to consider new arguments or polish content.
- The number of sources students are expected to link or reference - requiring students to find and link sources build research skills and helps students check their instincts and preconceptions about material.
- Whether students complete the assignment during class time or as homework - for younger students, completing this assignment during class time means more support and help when they struggle with a concept. Completing this assignment during class time also reduces the time the assignment takes, as all students are online at the same time to engage with each other.