Teaching “The Great Debaters”

“The Great Debaters” is an inspiring story of courage, creativity and resolve. Debate begins with a resolution. It starts with a point to prove. It is a form of battle, fought with words.

A great quote from the movie is: “Now is always the right time to do the right thing.” One of the most important lessons in The Great Debaters is found in one of its memorable lines:

“We do what we got to do, so we can do what we want to do.” 

Lesson plan:

  1. I plan to use The Question Formulation Technique here. In short, it goes like this: When students know how to ask their own questions, they take greater ownership of their learning, deepen comprehension, and make new connections and discoveries on their own. Source: Harvard Education Letter. 

Activities before watching the movie

  1. This activity is started by the Teacher designing a question focus. Here are several teasers to start off the activity: The art of debating, growing up as an African American in the south during the 1930s.  An unjust law is no law at all, “Jim crow laws, Harvard University, lynching, the great depression, a debate team, restrictions during the 1930s
  2. Give out post-it notes to the class or use Talkwall and work in groups of 4.
    a:) Produce Your Questions (Ask as many questions as you can. Do not stop to discuss, judge, or answer the questions. Write down every question exactly as it is stated.  Change any statement into a question.
    b:) Improve Your Questions, Categorize the questions as closed- or open-ended. (An open-ended question is a question that cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no” response, or with a static response. Open-ended questions are phrased as a statement that requires a longer response. The response can be compared to information that is already known to the questioner)
    C:) Prioritize the Questions • Choose your three most important questions. Why did you choose these three as the most important?

Watch the movie!

After- movie activities and discussion topics:

  1. Did the movie answer any of your questions?
  2. Use one or two of your questions to write a post on your blog.
  3. Look here for more info here: Great debaters study guide


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  3. Reblogged this on Fraser Valley Debate Club and commented:
    This month at MRCS MUN we are using The Great Debaters to study the personal and social impacts of debate, and taking a look at some rhetorical techniques, including rheto-logical fallacies.
    Here is a post from a fellow teacher that I found useful in preparing my lessons.

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