Bring Presidential Debate into the Classroom

by Elizabeth Liberatore

A presidential debate is like a job interview. It is the final opportunity for a candidate to distinguish him or herself from the competition to earn the majority of votes. After two fiery debates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have one more showdown before the public heads to the polls and the Electoral College fills the position of president.

Presidential debates are significant in both the political landscape and classroom. As a learning tool, presidential debates aid in comprehension about the American government and democracy. Additionally, classroom debates enhance students’ critical thinking and public speaking.

With the debates between Trump and Clinton in full swing, there is no better time than the present to teach students about the debates and host debates in the classroom. Here are some ways to put past and present debates at the forefront of a lesson:

Political ethnographers

Designate different sections of a debate to small groups. The groups should be silent ethnographers, and take detailed notes on the content of the each candidate’s answers and the style of his or her performance. What is his or her tone of voice? What mannerisms are present? Does either candidate’s inflection change during the debate? Does this signify anything? Students should also identify the main idea of the argument and fact-check the information presented to ensure that it is sound. After students have completed their research, ask them to present their findings to the class.

Reference past debates

Watch the Debates is an archive of every presidential debate since 1960. The site allows students to easily navigate through more than five decades of election issues. Microsoft Pulse, an audience response tool, allows students to agree or disagree with the candidates’ responses and lets students compare their responses to those of other viewers. Watch The Debates is ideal for social studies teachers as it allows students to not only evaluate presidential debates but also understand the nation’s most serious issues. Students can use this site in conjunction with Google Newspapers to compare and contrast past election issues that dominated the headlines.

Create a classroom Twitter account

The first Trump-Clinton presidential debate was the most streamed debate ever. Twitter and Facebook’s live video feature allows audiences worldwide to watch the debates on their computers, tablets, and smartphones. The feature also allows viewers to participate in live conversation. In preparation for the final debate on Oct. 19, create a classroom Twitter account or Facebook page where students can interact with one another during the debate. Students should evaluate candidates’ answers, pose questions to their peers, and compare and contrast the first two debates to the third. Do the debates reveal what each candidate stands for? Are candidates being consistent? Are the candidates’ responses thoughtful? Were any of the candidates’ responses surprising?

Classroom debates

Another fantastic resource that both social studies and English teachers can benefit from is Join the Debates. Join the Debates gives teachers curriculum for free so that their students can have civil conversations in the classroom about the issues in the campaign cycle. Classroom debates enable students to become engaged listeners, collaborators, expand their vocabulary with domain-specific words, practice the art of persuasion, and become more proficient in public speech. Students learn all of this while also learning how important presidential debates or ‘interviews’ are in every election.

 

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