The Great (Live) Debate – Athens vs Sparta

As a teacher of middle school students, one thing I have noticed is that they love to engage in arguments. As a history teacher, I offer the standard assessments for the students such as papers, and other projects. However, one of the most engaging has to be the debate. This ancient skill, and great activity, shouldn’t be overlooked in the modern classroom. Now with some technology we are able to make this debate go live (link here)… Now lets get down to business of how the debate worked in my classroom…

Debate Setup…

For this activity, students had a section of the textbook that was comparing Athens vs Sparta. You could use any topic you want, of course, for this age level I think it was important that there was a shared text to use as for base of knowledge. Students could research above and beyond this text if they wish. They were given their side and the driving question for the debate. Why is your city-state the best?

During the debate students had to prep an opening statement. Just like a courtroom, they could lay out what they hope to prove without worry of a rebuttal.

After each side makes their opening statements they then move into the body of the debate. The rules for the body of the debate is where this setup is different. When researching for this debate, students had to come up with topic categories that they state at the beginning of a round. Example topics they came up with: Arts, culture, military, land forces, trade, empires, bravery, philosophy, important leaders. Whoever won the coin toss gets to pick any topic category they wish. They then make a 1 minute argument around that topic as why their city-state is the best. Then, I give the other team about 1 minute to come up with a rebuttal. They then get 1 minute for a response. In preparation for this debate students had to take a lot of notes. They had to build categories and what they would say under each category. They then had to think about what the other side might choose as categories as they would only have 1 minute to make a counter argument. The level of preparation for this debate was insane.

Additionally, students were told that they are being judged on the FACTS they state as well as how they state them. Each round was scored per team 0-3 points. Another important rule that I put in place is that each fact could only be stated once. Being 6th graders I knew they would want to recycle information over and over. Now with this rule, they can do that; however, it isn’t earning them any points except the first time that fact was introduced.

Physical Classroom Setup:

This one was easy. I set two rows of tables facing each other. Then in the center of those I put 2 desks per side. facing each other. Each side would have to put two students into the center. They could trade out after each round if they wish. The students on the outside have to support those on the inside via technology (described below).

The last round of the debate is a closing statement. This round is key as it is scored from 0-6 points. Students can recycle arguments here if they wish as it is like the closing paragraph to a paper. They need to sum up why their city-state is the best.


For this debate, I thought it would be fun to offer a live feed of it to both parents and my PLN. The setup wasn’t hard at all. With Google+ and Google Hangouts it was as simple as making an invite. You select the time you will hold your debate, you can send it out to your Google+ Circles for all to see. I then copied the event’s link and sent that to parents via the free Post Master Plus tool. was the backbone to this setup. This is what allowed students on the outside to communicate to the inside players. This is why I put two people from each side in the center. One could talk, while the other sees what is written and adds where necessary. This way everyone in the room was working toward the win. I think the picture of just how many messages I got from two class periods doing this speaks for itself. 908 Celly messages.


Setup of the new cells… I Made a debategroup1 cell and a debategroup2 cell so that these communications would be private, so the other side wouldn’t see what you are writing. I would suggest that you all do this step if you have the tech in your classroom. If you don’t have the tech, I would skip the two in the center and I would make the speakers just walk into the center to speak and they can confer with their side when needed.

For the live debate, I also used some microphones. Clearly not needed, but does add a nice touch for the students and made it easy for all to hear them on the Google Hangout. If you want to know more about buying microphones see my post at about classroom budget built to last. I also used the Hovercam solo 8 to capture the video in HD. This is a sweet document camera with 1000 more ways one can use it, as seen here.

Wrap Up! 

It was clear to me that my students really enjoyed this activity. In fact, over my four classes the Spartans won 2 times and the Athenians won 2 times. They all begged me for a mega show down debate. All are welcome from all four classes. How could I disagree with that. You can see the final debate here: ATHENS vs Sparta Mega Debate

Consider making a debate in your class. I guarantee that your kids will love it and so will you.


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