I completed something that seemed impossible- Shakespeare in the middle of a pandemic as well as my school being shut down twice in a month due to the high number of positive cases in a month. Not only did we do it, but the kids actually loved it!
We spent about 3 weeks covering the historical context of Julius Caesar, watching the Marlon Brando movie and then analyzing some of the rhetoric in key scenes in detail. However, my favorite day came at the end.
My district required a formal debate at the end of the grading period. Time was limited and I knew another shutdown was looming (boy was I right because it came two days later!), so I didn’t have time for a traditional debate. As always, necessity is the mother of invention.
I decided to take a teams debate and change it up a little. I broke them into pairs and each pair was responsible for arguing either the senators were right to murder Caesar or that they were wrong. Each person in the pair needed to come up with 1 piece of evidence that they felt supported their side of the argument and right why it proved it. They needed to make sure they did not overlap each other.
They did this for about 10 minutes as a warmup the day before the debate. The day of the debate, I put them in groups of 4. Point 1 person of the pro-side started the discussion (they got about 1 minute to speak), then point 1 of the con side got their say (again 1 minute), point 2 of the pro side got the next side, and then point 2 of the con side concluded the main arguments. I then gave them about 2 minutes to have any last rebuttals. To end the debate, I asked one person from each group to summarize the main arguments made and then had them complete a quickwrite assignment in Canvas on what their final thoughts were after going back and forth.
As I walked around a bit listening to the debates, I was deeply impressed. They were making fantastic arguments with sound reasoning and in some cases getting quite passionate! I look forward to throwing this activity again with a variety of topics throughout the year as it is just good for argumentative writing and thinking. If you think this style of debate/discussion is useful in your classroom, check out this free handout to help your students prepare!
In my next installment, I look forward to telling you about the next debate/discussion we held (virtually) on the lyrics of “Baby It’s Cold Outside”!