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Debating the future

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nb26Debating the FutureHow Much Should We Rely on Robots?

Before doing this extension, students should read, analyze, and compare the following science fiction novels and short story collections:

  1. I Robot by Isaac Asimov
  2. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
  3. The Veldt in The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury


  1. The students will develop critical thinking skills by comparing conditions in the imaginary world of science fiction to conditions in the real world.
  2. The students will become familiar with debate format, rules, techniques, and vocabulary by participating in an informal debate.
  3. The students will develop research skills by using multiple resources to locate evidence to support their point of view on a topic.
  4. The students will develop oral communication and listening skills by planning and presenting a speech to support their position on a robotics related topic.


HCPS III Oral Communication Benchmarks

LA.9.6.1-9.6.5, LA.10.6.1-10.6.7, LA.11.6.1-11.6.5, LA.12.6.1- 12.6.4

LA.9.7.1-9.7.4, LA.10.7.1-10.7.3, LA.11.7.1-11.7.3, LA.12.7.1-12.7.3

HCPS III Reading Benchmarks

LA.9.1.2; LA.10.1.2; LA.11.1.2; LA.12.1.2

Common Core Standards:

The debate lesson also addresses many Common Core ELA standards in Reading: Informational Text and Speaking & Listening.

General List of Helpful Teacher Resources

Copies of the following texts

Teacher References

Internet Resources

  • Critical Advocacy (series of videos on debate basics including public speaking skills, persuasion, argumentation - videos are long so you’ll want to select: sections that meet your needs).
  • SEDA Resources This site has some excellent resources for training students on debate. Go to teacher resources in the sidebar and look at the online guides they offer. Has all you’ll need to do a terrific debate unit with your students - complete with materials, objectives, step-by-step procedures, etc.)
    • Student Hanouts on Debate Skills are availalble on the SEDA site.
    • Debate Scoring Sheet.Rubrics. There are some excellent ones in Spek Out on the SEDA site.
  • Education World - Classroom Debates. (Another excellent resource for debate information and materials. Check this one for classroom alternatives to traditional debate and debate rubrics.
  • Youtube: Instructional videos on flowing, debate speeches
  • Teaching Debate in the Elementary Classroom. These materials were written for upper elementary gifted but the handout is easy to understand for students who are new to debate.

Unit Duration: Approximately 4 weeks (based on students’ prior experiences with debate and the extent to which teachers want their students to learn correct debate format)

Prerequisite: To prepare for this series of lessons students should read I, Robot , Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, and The Illustrated Man

Week 1

Week 1 : Debate Basics (3-4 days)

Are We Going to Debate or Argue? (1 day)

  • Debate VS Argument Chart (TR)
  • Signs for Four Corners Debate Strategy (Agree, Strongly Agree, Disagree, Strongly Disagree) (Link to strategy in lesson)
  • Debate Videos (sources listed in lesson and in teacher resources )
  • List of debate terms (TR)


  • Open with a strong statement that has highly emotional pros and cons. It’s best to select a local issue that is timely and relevant to your students. Here are some suggestions.
    • High school students should be able to do required coursework and exams online from their homes.
    • Pro athletes deserve to be more highly paid than people in service industries (nurses, doctors, firefighters, teachers).
    • Today’s society is not committed to solving environmental issues.
    • It should be illegal to produce and sell violent video games.
    • High school students should not be allowed to have an after school job if their grades are poor.
  • Discuss topic using Four Corners strategy
  • Explain that there are often different opinions on topics and people argue strongly for what they believe.
  • Relate back discussions on topics from I, Robot, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and The Veldt.
  • State objective: During this unit you will become familiar with debate format, rules, techniques, and vocabulary by participating in an informal debate. This is a structured way to present your views through reasoning and evidence (much like attorneys do during a trial).
  • Demonstrate the difference between an argument and a debate.
    • Stage an argument
    • Invite a school debate team in to do an impromptu debate on one of the topics listed above or watch a You Tube video of a debate.
  • Discuss the difference between a debate and an argument.
    • See TR for chart - Debates VS Arguments
  • Summarize learning by having students turn to a partner and quickly review the difference between debates and arguments.

Debate Ground Rules (1-2 days)


  • Debate VS Argument Chart (TR)
  • Informal Debate Format Information (TR)
  • Debate Videos (or visit from school Debate Club)
  • Roles and Rules Student Worksheet (TR)
  • List of debate terms (TR)


  • Review difference between debate and argument (chart)
  • Explain to the students that they will be participating in an informal debate dealing with a controversial topic on robotics.
  • Give an overview of informal debate format. Explain what a debate is, how it’s structured (speaking order, time limits, etc.), the responsibilities of the speakers and the audience, terms used. See the TR - Informal Debate Format. Check resource list for more detailed information on debate format and procedures.
  • If possible, give students opportunities to see debate in action (YouTube, debate club, political debate). The following link has videos of debates that are suitable for school viewing.
  • Review learning - students fill in chart on roles and rules of debate. TR - Roles and Rules of Debate

Assessment Opportunity: Roles and Rules of Debate

Forming Teams (1 day)


  • Debate topics (in lesson)
  • Box with equal number of affirmative and negative slips of paper - total number of slips must equal the number of students in the class
  • Chart of Speaking Roles in Debate


  • Quick review of learning using chart filled out previous day
  • Announce the debate topics:
    1. Robots are a threat to our quality of life.
    2. A robot would make a better world leader than a human.
    3. Robots should not be used in warfare.
    4. The U.S. budget should include more funds for the advancement of robotics in industry.
  • In debate, students may have to support an opinion that they don’t personally support. This helps them understand both sides of the issue.
  • Have students draw for which side they’ll support in this debate (affirmative or negative).
  • Break these groups into debate teams and have students decide speaking roles for the debate.
    • See the TR - Informal Debate Format
  • Give each set of teams a topic from above (They can draw for these)
  • Ask teams to brainstorm what they know about the topic, what they need to find out, and where they might get information. Teacher circulates, monitors, advises, makes suggestions.
  • Here are some questions they might consider.
    • How are robots used to help people? Are they always helpful?
    • How are robots used in wars, for AI? Are these roles helpful or invasive?
    • How are robots used in workplaces? Are they taking jobs once held by people or are they making industries more efficient and products less costly?
    • How are robots used in everyday life? Do they improve our lives?
    • How are robots used in space? How will man use the information gathered? Will life be better with this information?
    • Does the use of robots have any effect on the economy?
    • Are robots a threat to our security or are they helping us stay safe?
  • Call class together and explain the importance of gathering strong, credible, current evidence to support their argument (much like in a court trial)
  • Next week will be spent digging for evidence.

Week 2

Week 2 : Gathering Evidence (5 days)

Materials Needed:

  • Debate Planning Sheet (TR)
  • Internet Access
  • Library access to reference materials


  • Open by asking students what they need to consider when gathering evidence to support their position.
  • nb28
  • Pass out Debate Planning Sheet and go over it together. TR - Debate Planning Sheet
  • Students meet in their debate teams and begin to gather evidence and plan their debate strategy. The planning sheet serves as a guide for the students as well as an assessment tool for the teacher.
  • Possible mini-lesson topics during this week might be as follows:
    • How to Write Citations
    • Note Taking Strategies
    • Recognizing Good Search Criteria
    • Evaluating Resources
    • Working Effectively as a Team
  • The rest of the week should be spent gathering evidence and planning the team’s strategy. Teacher circulates, observes, guides, answers questions.
  • By the end of the week students should turn in their debate planning sheet.

Assessment Opportunity: Debate Planning Sheet

Week 3

Week 3: Preparing for the Day of the Debate (4-5 Days)

Students have learned the basics of debate. They’ve planned their strategy and have gathered evidence to support their points. This week will be spent on developing note taking skills, gaining confidence in speaking skills, and doing final preparations for the debate.

What did he say? (1 day)


  • Note Taking (Flow) Sheet (TR)
  • Debate video


  • Students turn to a partner. One student speaks about a specified topic for 3 minutes while the other listens. At the end of three minutes, talking stops. The other person writes down everything he remembers that his partner said. Discuss results.
  • Explain importance of remembering what the opposing team and your teammates say during a debate.
  • Pass out note taking sheet - introduce “flowing” (method of note taking during a debate) and how to use the sheet. Legal paper folded into columns can be used instead of the form. TR - Flow Sheet
  • Practice taking notes during a debate video. Stop the video after each speaker and have the students compare their notes with a partner.
  • Taking debate notes is difficult for beginners. Discuss what was most difficult. Experienced debaters use standard abbreviations to get the information down quickly. Students can think of their own “shorthand” method. The key is to remember what the others said so you can respond.

Speak Up! (1 day)


  • Smart Board and internet connection
  • Qatar Debate site video (see video link in lesson)
  • Speaking Tips (see link in lesson)
  • Think-Pair-Share Strategy Directions (see link in lesson)


The following activities will help students gain confidence in impromptu speaking and “thinking on their feet”.

  • To debate well, you have to think fast on your feet and respond quickly and convincingly.
  • Do the Alley Debate activity as described in the Qatar Debate site video ( 5:54 on the video).
  • Follow this activity with the Tag Team Strategy using a topic on which your students have strong opposing views. (Scroll down to “Fun Debate Strategies”)
  • Using Think-Pair-Sharebrainstorm the following:
    • What are some things that make you want to listen to a speaker?
    • What do good speakers do to hold your attention?
    • How do they use their voice and body?
    • What kinds of things about a speaker distract you or “turn you off”?
  • Think about yourself as a speaker. Write about what you do well and what you need to improve.

Debate Planning Sheet Feedback & Final Preparations (1Day)



  • Return debate planning sheets to teams (make copies - one for each team member and one for yourself).
  • Teams go over teacher comments, make revisions, and practice their presentation. Teacher circulates and answers questions about comments on Debate Planning Sheet.
  • Pass out the scoring sheet and go over the scoring criteria.
  • Practice using the scoring sheet after watching a debate video
  • Use additional time as needed to do final practice for debate.
  • Close the lesson by discussing audience responsibilities during debate. This is a good time to introduce heckling and POI if your students are ready for this. For more information, go to the following link (SEDA Resources), click on “Debater Tools” and scroll down to “POI Pointers” and “Heckling Pointers” .

Week 4

Week 4 : The Big Debate (4 Days - one debate /day)

Materials Needed for This Week:


  • Review audience behavior
  • Pass out scoring sheets to audience.
  • One team/ day presents their debate. Allow 30 min/debate.
  • After debate, audience shares positive feedback.
  • Teacher collects scoring sheets and announces winner of the debate.
  • Continue until all teams have had a chance to debate.
  • Have students write an evaluation of their debate experience.

Optional Extension Activity

  • Answer the question, "Are robots destroying the quality of human life?" from a robot's point of view.
  • Give detailed reasons for your opinion.


Unit Notes

  • Students can do many activities in this unit without reading the literature. The literature, however, gives much “food for thought” for this debate.
  • Teachers may select activities from the unit that best meet their needs and the needs of their students

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Contact Info

  • Kathleen Letsky, Curriculum Specialist
  • Nathan Patia, STEM Specialist
  • Salvador Cabusi, Technology Specialist
  • Robot Invasion
  • Krause Family Foundation
  • Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Tel: 808.778.1265

The Krause Family Foundation: ‘Alana Ke Aloha

  • ‘Alana Ke Aloha places relationship at the heart of all learning.  We create and support projects that engage participants’ imagination, collaboration, and problem solving toward a healthy planet.
  • The Krause Family Foundation: ‘Alana Ke Aloha is a private, 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization (EIN: 27-1531421) registered (01/21/2010) in the State of Hawai‘i.