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We had the opportunity to go spend a day at the Ron Clark Academy. One of the teachers we got to see was Mr. Wade King. We were looking forward to seeing the staff of the school in action, as we do things in much the same way… well, we thought we did. I guess we still do, just not to the same level, we have to be concerned about neighbors and noise.

One of the techniques we saw in action was what Wade called Tennis Debate. I taught this to my kids last week and it went extremely well.

The idea behind tennis debate is that students must track a conversation as an argument/debate progresses through several students. The debate is very structured as it proceeds in a very deliberate order, as illustrated by the image below.

Tennis Debate Order (1)

This is a quick illustration I made for the purpose of keeping my students on track. The debate can certainly have a different number of participants, just make sure it goes back and forth and ends back up with the person who began the debate.

The students quickly learn that they must make eye contact with the person they are speaking to, and when they are not speaking they have to pay attention to the argument as it proceeds. They also learn that they have to make a point and support it in a brief amount of time (30-45 seconds per person).

I related the debate to writing an argumentative essay. The person who ‘serves’ begins and finishes the debate. They are the person who writes the introduction and conclusion. All of the people making points throughout the debate are the one presenting claims and counter claims, as well as giving some support. Add a bit more structure and organize the claims and counter claims in the order you desire, and you have an argumentative essay.

Another idea I applied to the debate was the use of hashtags. I have already explained to them that hashtags exist to make things easier to find on social media. When you look at them, they often indicate the main idea of what a post is. I used them as a means of showing that they really do understand the concept of main idea, and use it every day. In tennis debate, hashtags are used to punctuate a point the debater is trying to make. A well placed, witty hashtag can earn them an extra point in the debate. There are some great YouTube videos out there to get them comfortable with this idea. I used this one, the same one Wade showed us. About a minute of this video is all they need to get the idea.

Using tennis debate, you will find that students want to learn both sides of an argument. They actually want to make sure they are prepared. They don’t want to let their teammates down, and they certainly don’t want to look unprepared. I don’t tell them what side of an argument they will have to take ahead of time.

Tennis debate is an extremely quick, easy way to get kids talking about any number of ideas. It’s a great way to get them to read and follow up on information to try to make their points. It also teaches the valuable lesson of tracking conversations and being authentically involved.

Again, my thanks to Wade King (@wadeking7) and the Ron Clark Academy (@ronclarkacademy) for having us out for a great day of learning.

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