Debating across the curriculum

Debating for all: Much more than just a co-curricular activity

Many schools have debate clubs and enter teams into debating competition, but debate should be more than this. It can be a powerful learning tool for all children when it is used in the classroom.

Some of the advantages of using debate across the curriculum are:

  • Improving students’ ability to form arguments and to use reasoning and evidence
  • Allowing students to explore subject matter in depth and from different perspectives
  • Providing the ability to structure thoughts
  • Providing an engaging, active, pupil-centred activity which students enjoy
  • Hitting literacy and citizenship targets across the curriculum
  • Providing speaking and listening opportunities for EAL pupils
  • Giving stretch and challenge to G&T pupils
  • Increasing student’s confidence, self-esteem and articulacy

Teachers’ observations about the use of debate in the curriculum

When surveyed, teachers who use debate in the classroom reported the following benefits:

  • Improves self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Uses higher order thinking skills
  • Builds skills in research, teamwork and note-taking
  • Is an active pupil-led classroom strategy
  • Improves literacy and leads to better essay writing
  • Builds speaking and listening skills
  • Enforces the need to use evidence
  • Teaches skills in building and responding to arguments
  • Gives opportunity to practise thinking on your feet and working under pressure
  • Leads to structured thought and structured writing
  • Acts as an effective summary and revision tool
  • Shows that there are two sides to all issues and gives a constructive format for disagreement to be aired
  • Pupils enjoyed the activity and their learning.

Where can debate be used across the curriculum?


  • Speaking & Listening component of English Curriculum
  • Citizenship: Key stage three pupils must take part in a debate; key stage four pupils must take part in a formal debate
  • Science: Explore how scientific issues affect the community (e.g. genetic engineering, nuclear power)
  • Humanities: Explore curriculum content (e.g. globalisation or the environment in Geography; ethical issues in RE; or time-set debates in history “it is 1912, debate if we should give women the vote”).
  • Literature: Explore textual issues or characters (e.g. “Lady Macbeth is to blame for the murders)
  • Foreign languages: Any debate in the target language
  • Arts: Subjects which explore the arts and their place in society/culture (e.g. “great art is subjective” or “productions of plays are best when they are set in the modern day”)

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