Marquette Mentors Young Debate Team
Elementary Students Learn the Art of the Argument
Honey Creek Elementary School instructor Tina
Harris began with a vision: using public debate as a tool to help her
fifth grade class develop research, communication and critical thinking
skills that were compulsory to the curriculum.
goal was to expand the students’ analytical abilities; to make them
better problem solvers and evaluators of information,” says
The timing, as it turned out, was
serendipitous. Soon after the initial brainstorm, Harris received a
letter about classroom grant opportunities. She applied and was awarded
the Excel Grant, a monetary endowment designed to encourage innovative
Tina Harris and her students
selected the initial debate topics and immediately plunged into the
research. As a first time endeavor for the school, there were issues of
getting the project off the ground and questions of how to structure
the format. Harris, who was aware of the debate team at Marquette,
contacted the university for guidance and was put in touch with David
Denomie, the assistant director of debate at Marquette.
the start, the process of learning about debate presented both
possibilities and challenges. Students continue to learn how to
separate logic from emotion when arguing a point of view, how to
conduct thorough research and how to refine methods for determining
reliable sources of information.
is first time that debate has ever been initiated in elementary schools
earlier than the middle school level in Wisconsin,” says Denomie, who
together with Marquette debate team member Nicole Thompson worked
closely with students. “We have now been contacted by another
elementary school in the city interested in starting a program this
The topics are often ones that directly
impact the students’ lives. Issues such as locker searches, year-round
school and the legal driving age are used to engage the kids directly
in the process.
Participants complete both
individual and group research in preparation for a debate, and work in
teams to support one another on the day of the event. Even if the
students are assigned to endorse a point of view that they disagree
with, they are able to find facts that defend their arguments.
to Denomie, watching the students develop as critical thinkers has
proven to be a rewarding experience.
Honey Creek Elementary program was really inspiring for me,” he says.
“The students have expressed how empowering the debate experience had
been for them. So often, frustration among youth arises from an
inability to express themselves in more constructive and effective
ways, and to understand how to respectfully disagree with those who
don’t see things the same way. Debate in the schools, even in the early
grades, is an activity that helps them develop these
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