How to Implement the SPAR (Spontaneous Argumentation) Teaching Strategy in Your Classroom
In this format debate modeled after an event in forensic competitions, learners frame their argument in one minute and then react quickly to their opponents’ ideas. This method helps learners practice utilizing evidence and examples to defend a position. Because learners aren’t given much preparation time, SPAR is most effective when learners already have background information about the topic. With practice, learners become increasingly comfortable with and proficient in utilizing this tactic to unearth the pro and con sides of controversial issues.
- Prepare the Class: Separate the class in half. Change one side to assume the proposition and the other side to take the con position. Have learners move their desks, so they are sitting opposite an opponent. Write a debatable proposition on the board. The proposition must relate to the material you have been studying, and learners must already have some background information on the issue.
- Learners Brainstorm Arguments: Give learners one to two minutes to write down their arguments and evidence for or against the proposition. You can give the learners a graphic organizer to help them format their ideas and take notes during the debate.
- Learners Present Opening Statements: The “pro” learners present a one-minute opening statement making their case, while the “con” learners listen quietly and take notes. Then the “con” learners give a one-minute opening statement while the “pro” learners listen quietly and take notes.
- Learners Discuss: Give learners 30 seconds to create ideas and concepts that they will say to their opponents. Next, invite the pairs to engage in a three-minute conversation during which they must question their opponent’s critical thinking or submit new ideas of their own.
- Learners Present Closing Statements: Give learners 30 seconds or one minute to prepare a closing statement. “Con” learners present a closing statement for one minute while the “pro” learners listen quietly, and then the roles reverse.
- Debrief the Learning activity: Prompts you can use to format a class discussion about this learning activity include:
- What did you learn by being in this SPAR debate?
- What were the arguments for both sides of the issue?
- What is the importance of debating positions that may be contrary to how you feel?
- What was the toughest about participating in this kind of debate? What did you like about it?
Before facilitating a class discussion about any of these questions, allow learners to respond in their journals.
- Research SPAR: SPAR could be adapted to include time for learners to gather more evidence to support their positions. Research can be as informal as giving learners time to look through their notes (possibly as a homework assignment the night before) or can be as extensive as a formal research project.
- Jigsaw SPAR: Learners can first meet as “expert” pro and con groups to create ideas together before starting the debate.
- Fishbowl SPAR: Half the class participates in the debate while the rest observes. Then the positions switch. In this adaption, all of the learners can debate the same issue or problem, or they can discuss different plans in each round. The observers can make a note of the most credible arguments on either side.