Speed Date Debate: A Student Centered Movement in the Classroom

On Tuesday I tried something very new with my Freshman Comp classes based on one of Ryan Donovan, Hilarie Ashton and Richard Lissemore’s creative movement and embodiment activities. On Monday, after attempting to relax my students’ minds and inspire concentration and focus through a meditation practice, I asked my students to remain in their head space and respond to a prompt I wrote on the board. This prompt asked them to present an argument and take a side. The goal was to see if the meditation practice would help them focus and write while in a clear and peaceful state. The writing they completed returned to our classroom the next day for an activity called “Speed Date Debate.” In both classes, I shifted the desks to make one row face the other. On one side were the “yes” arguments  and across were the “no” arguments. We didn’t have enough yes arguments in my first class, but the second class had a pretty even number of conflicting viewpoints. Students had 2 minutes to read the person’s argument and then students had 5 minutes to discuss if the argument changed their mind and to explain why or why not. When time was up, I asked one row to move to the right and read and respond to a new argument.

In my first class, when a pair had conflicting viewpoints, the discussions were robust and energetic– but this class’ personality is pretty energetic most days. Some students had such strong arguments though, they were able to persuade the yes students to change their mind. Other students found they were more conflicted than before and many just stuck with their initial position. This may have have been the result of not having enough strong yes arguments to go around.

The most interesting part of this activity is what it did for my quieter class. This class had an almost even number of opposing viewpoints and all of them were eager to read and respond to their date.They were super energized, kept a positive energy and talked deeply about each others arguments. It seems my students needed this sort of movement, since the room has a beautifully serene view of the ocean and naturally encompasses a peaceful atmosphere. My students say it’s just the time of day, but I think it’s the way our classrooms are set up.

What I LOVED about this activity most was that it applied and tackled a few student centered techniques and objectives at once, in what seemed to be a fun activity centered around the art of the argument and it’s supportive companion, evidence and research.

Thank you for this! I’ll tweak the meditation next time, but I’m keeping this one as is.


  1. Pingback: Syllabus–Experimental Pedagogy: Process, Growth, Mindfulness towards Autonomy (applicable for all levels)– this course is not currently offered | Mapping the Futures of Higher Education

  2. Thanks for sharing – I want to try to work in a “speed date debate” into my Roman Civ course next fall. Can I ask how many students you had in each class and in terms of space was it a simple task to set up the desk in rows? I will have 35 students… I hope that’s not too many to do this activity. With your more energetic class – did it every get very loud or chaotic (in a good or bad way)? I love the idea of combining meditation (cool) and argumentation (hot) activities for a productive but engaging effect!

    1. Hey Irene,
      I wasn’t sure what I’d read after the meditation, but many of the arguments were strong. I have to give credit to the meditation, although a lot of my students said it didn’t help. I used to have a literacy class sketch a picture of towels draped over hooks, for the same purpose as this meditation– to exercise concentration.

      I have about 28 desks in my classrooms and one of the classrooms is pretty small. So, I made two debate rows and had student snake around.
      Kind of like this:
      It took me about 5 minutes to turn two rows around and keep two rows as is. If your classroom is small, you might want to set up a few groups of debaters (10 in two rows and 15 in the third). The challenge was that a lot of my “yes” students were absent that day, so the uneven number really threw off the momentum at times. Also, you’re never really sure what side your students are going to take, so it’s a possibility the debate may not work out…

      They were a little loud at times, but the intermittent cool downs for the 2 minute readings helped them stabilize. They weren’t talking to their dates for too long for it to really get heated or boring.

      You should try it though! It’s really good to boost mid-semester morale and energy and REALLY super amazing good for quiet classes who are shy, bored or tired.

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