Debates are something that all students love.  A chance to argue for what they believe in?  Sounds too good to be true.  And many times they are too good to be true – at least for teachers.  Despite posing a thought-provoking question to students, even the most well meaning debate can turn into yelling match.  fluid debate

I began putting a lot of time and energy into planning for my debates, which is fantastic when I actually have the time in class to spend with them.  (See one of my earlier posts for tips on implementing a full-scale debate). However, sometimes I just want to get into a meaningful dialogue without all of the prep.

Fluid Debates are one option that I started using this year, and my kids absolutely love them.  This is something they actually BEG for – I had a class promise to be quiet during their vocab quiz if they could do a Fluid Debate later!

So what is this holy grail of debate formats?  It’s really a mash-up of a bunch of other strategies.  Read below to see what it is and how I use it in my classroom.

Before the lesson, I plan 3-4 opinionated statements.  These can be based on a character’s action, a current event, or a famous quotation.  The above picture shows a question I used from our novel Code Talker.  This is the ONLY PREP you have to do.

When it’s time for the lesson, show your students one statement at a time.  After showing the statement, tell them to write down if they Agree, Mostly Agree, Mostly Disagree, or Disagree and WHY.

This is an example of a student’s notes – she kept a running Google Doc of all the Fluid Debates we did for that novel

I let my students abbreviate or use bullet-points and I don’t collect the notes.  I also don’t give them more than 2 minutes.  I don’t want them to have time to think through every different perspective yet

I based the concept for my Fluid Debate off of the Four Corners mentality.  Label each corner of the room as Agree, Mostly Agree, Mostly Disagree and Disagree and then put one statement on the board and have students move to their respective corner.  Call on one student to begin the debate by explaining why he or she is in that corner.  They get to call on the next person, as long as that person is not in their corner.  Keep the dialogue going for as long as time allows.

Students in my 5th grade class are “Debating,” not “Hating” as they discuss the validity of the Doomsday clock after reading a Newsela article

The Catch:  I call this a FLUID debate because I don’t make my students commit to their corner (as is the case with many Four-Corner strategies).  Instead, I encourage students to move at the moment that their minds change.   This could even be while someone is in the middle of talking.  As soon as they start to have doubts about the corner they’re in, their feet better get to stepping.

Keep in mind that students are too nervous (or stubborn) to move corners the first time.  I usually participate in the first few debates (or all of them, because they really are fun!) and make sure to move corners as my own mind changes.  I also give a lot of positive reinforcement when students begin to move.  Let students know that switching corners doesn’t mean admitting their first thought was wrong, it means they are thoughtful enough to consider perspective.  Celebrate the fluidity of their thinking by explaining that this is how great minds work.

There is one other twist I like to add in:  the FREEZE feature.  At the beginning of the debate I warn students that at any time I can yell “Freeze!” and they have to stop wherever they are.  At that moment, I can call on any student I want and they have to be able to give me a valid reason why they are standing where they are.

Looking for a way to bump up the rigor?  I used Fluid Debates during the entire reading of Code Talker.  I had students record all of their notes on one Google Doc.  Then, for the essay portion of their test, I let them pick ANY fluid debate statement to expand into an essay.

Let me know how Fluid Debates work in your classroom!