The first presidential debate on Monday night will be the thing to watch on television — it is estimated that as many as 100 million Americans will be tuning in to see Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton meet face-to-face.
The art of debate is a terrific ability for kids to develop — and a four-year-old company in Seattle, DebateAble, offers students in the third through sixth grades the chance to hone their own debate skills in order to develop critical thinking skills and more effectively present ideas.
Skills like public speaking and critical thinking stay with kids as they continue on to middle and high school and beyond,” said one expert.
DebateAble’s programs can be used by after-school clubs, or as part of an in-class curriculum.
LifeZette talked to DebateAble’s director and co-founder, Elizabeth Kruse, about why debate is a good skill for all kids to have.
Question: What will kids participating in debate be looking for in the first presidential debate?
Answer: Several of our students during the presidential primaries asked their debate coaches why the candidates’ debates looked so different from the ones they participate in — where debaters actually make a case for their arguments and address and refute opponents’ arguments. We couldn’t give them a good answer!
[lz_bulleted_list title=”Debate Tips for Kids” source=”http://www.riudl.org”]The only person whose opinion matters at the end of a round is the judge’s, not yours|Every argument you make will be compared against something the other person or team said, so think comparatively|Always act as if you’re winning, even if you’re not. Composure, poise, ethos, are all essential skills in public speaking|Refer to your evidence when possible; far too many debaters discount its importance|Debate is a team activity, so even if you’re stronger than your partner, let him or her respond to questions as appropriate[/lz_bulleted_list]
As a result, for this debate we’ll ask that in addition to argument, the kids pay special attention to other components. For kids in third grade through fifth grade, that means noticing the debaters’ conduct — including tone, body language, manners, inflection — and when those things are and are not used persuasively. For our sixth- and seventh-graders, we found that watching the primary debates was a good opportunity to work on spotting logical fallacies, from ad hominem attacks to circular reasoning. We’ll have them do the same for the presidential rounds.
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Q: What strengths do kids gain from debate?
A: Debate teaches critical thinking skills, confidence in public speaking, and teamwork. This is true to some degree for every child who has participated in our program — across the board.
A powerful component of our program — and of any good educational debate program — is teaching students how to consider and argue a topic from more than one side. At first, many kids think they’re unable to do this. But they can and they do. The ability to better understand their opponent’s position not only helps them make their own arguments stronger — it’s the best way to help build empathy toward others.
Q: Talk to us about how popular debate is in schools today.
A: The popularity of debate clubs is growing across all age groups. I think parents are beginning to understand the value of having their kids participate in debate and also learning to speak publicly — it’s one of the most dreaded acts for many adults. In Seattle, where we are based, elementary school debate has taken off. Parents and educators are starting to take notice that when you teach debate to elementary school students, skills like public speaking and critical thinking stay with them as they continue to middle and high school and beyond.
“Being able to form and voice an opinion in a reasoned, respectful, and thoughtful way is a wonderful skill.”
Over the past couple of years, DebateAble has received so many inquiries about our elementary school curriculum, which we developed and grew through dozens of clubs and hundreds of debaters. We now sell it through our web page to help other schools and families teach debate to their kids.
Q: Is debating an art or a science — or both?
A: Both. For the age level we work with, nine- to 13-year-old debaters, it’s a set of skills that can be transferred to every other area of their lives. Being able to form and voice an opinion in a reasoned, respectful, and thoughtful way is wonderful in the classroom, but also invaluable in personal relationships, or on the ball field, or in dance class. The same applies to learning how to listen actively, or to see issues from other perspectives, or interact with teammates in a way that’s supportive and cooperative.
Q: What skills will debaters take forward into their careers and lives?
A: Students who learn how to debate become more confident public speakers, how to make and defend arguments and argue more than one side of a topic no matter what their beliefs, how to think critically, how to cooperate and support their team and — maybe most importantly — how to build empathy. To access and begin developing these qualities in adolescence and early teen years is invaluable.