Getting teenagers to think creatively can be quite a chore! Many teens avoid going the extra mile in the classroom like the plague, aiming squarely for the bare minimum. How to get them to think outside the box and put forth effort into coming up with good stuff?
Encouraging competition through debate is an excellent way to do this, particularly if suitable incentive is provided to be on the winning side. Students will often go the extra mile to shine in a competition when bonus points are awarded. In classes where many of the students have known each other for years competition may be easy to stir up, with friendly rivalries already existing among top-performing students. The independent study afforded by debate preparation is often preferable to traditional “busy work” of note-taking and worksheet completion.
However, allowing students to push the envelope by preparing for a debate involves a fair degree of formality and academic expectation. Students must know that each member of the class is expected to contribute and turn in a written account of their work. Additionally, during the debate all non-speaking students must take notes. If these expectations are not made clear many students will become lazy and expect the other team members to carry the group effort.
When picking debate teams an effort must be made to create a good mix of top-performers and lower-performers. A group with too many lower-performers will struggle to build momentum on research and thinking creatively. Creating good student groups may not be possible until several weeks into a new school year. By this time a teacher is also likely to know which top performers have healthy rivalries with one another. For example, putting a valedictorian on Team A and the salutatorian on Team B will almost always create intense drive for competition and creativity.
A further way to stoke the creative fires is to award points for debate arguments that are successful but fall outside the basics. While many debaters will simply Google the basics, awarding points for going a step further or thinking outside the box will force teenagers to sit and think. When creating a debate worksheet it is advisable to include a “why” section where students can indicate why their argument is important or what it represents.
Finally, to create an expectation of creativity in class an instructor needs to begin the year by forcing students to go the extra step. Many a teacher has been dismayed to find that students are hesitant to work or strive after weeks of the teacher providing the answers. Do not hand students the answers, at least until they perform the work. Once students know that they will be forced to work they might just surprise you with their innate creativity and effort.