What should I watch for in the debates?

Selecting the Next President
What should I watch for in the debates?
Students will develop criteria for evaluating the debate performance of
the candidates and observe media coverage of the debates.
Civics and Government
8.14 – Explain rights and responsibilities of citizens.
HS.34 – Explain the responsibilities of citizens (e.g, vote, pay taxes).
Social Science Analysis
8.25 – Critique data for point of view, historical context, distortion, or
propaganda and relevance.
8.26 – Examine a controversial event, issue, or problem from more than
one perspective.
HS.59 – Demonstrate the skills and dispositions needed to be a critical
consumer of information.
(1) Debate Schedule; (2) Debate Checklist; (3) Debate Scoresheet;
(3) Scoring Debaters
Understanding Debates: A Viewer’s Guide;
Polling Resources; Why Debates Matter.
A. Daily warm-up
Ask students, what campaign issues are being discussed? What issues do you want to
hear discussion about?
B. What is a debate?
A formal, oral confrontation between two individuals, teams, or groups who present
arguments to support opposing sides of a question, generally according to a set form or
procedure. Source : www.britannica.com.
C. When are the Presidential Debates?
Mark your calendars! See Handout 1 for more detail.
October 3
October 11 – Vice Presidential debate
October 16
October 22
Consider the moderators. What are their qualifications? Do they make a difference?
What about the format of the debates; does it make a difference? What is the purpose of
the format features of the Presidential debates? Think about time limits, seating and
other debate format decisions. How do they impact the debate?
D. Vocabulary
Selecting the Next President
Affirmative – approving or supporting
Negative – denying or opposing
Rebut – to present opposing evidence or arguments
Refute – to prove to be false
Resolution – the purpose of the resolution is to define and limit the topic or debate
And, to track the debates, consider the arguments in three parts (A-R-E):
Source: http://teachingdebate.typepad.com/teaching_debate/2007/08/a-r-e-tracking.html .
E. How should I watch the debates?
See Handout 1 for a schedule of the debates. Strategy below works best when showing
taped debate excerpts in class; watching debates could also be a homework assignment.
The one-page backgrounder, Understanding Debates: A Viewer's Guide, is a helpful
resource for both teachers and students.
Ask, "what is a debate about?" Suggest that it should be a demonstration of one's
knowledge not showing what others do not know; a marketplace of ideas not one idea;
expressing opinions not putting others down. Debate watchers are urged not to look for
the winner but rather who will make a better president.
Prepare students for debate watching by reviewing Debate Checklist, Handout 2, as a
class. For a tool to use while watching the debate itself, refer to Handouts 3 and 4. They
provide options for helping students be wise debate watchers. Review them; choose one
or both viewing tools to use with your students.
One strategy is to ask students to look for different things during the debate. For
example, some students may be asked to focus upon issues (how much did the
candidates seem to know?), others on style (how well did the candidates
communicate?), and others consistency (how well did the candidates match their ads?),
and so on.
After watching, students should reflect individually before engaging in small group
discussion on their respective topic areas. Finally, the small groups should present their
views with the whole class.
E. Do the debates make a difference?
After watching a debate, check polling sites to see if the debate seems to make a
difference. Backgrounder Polling Resources provides polling websites as well as basic
background; see also backgrounder Why Debates Matter.
Extended Activities
Chain-debate. This is an effective strategy to do a quick mini-debate in your class.
Selecting the Next President
Divide the class in two groups of 15 (assuming a 30 student class). In each group, do a
quick brainstorm on the topic, “presidential debates influence voters.” In a chain
debate, each student will make a very short statement (1-2 sentences). Begin with five
students making one statement (or assertion) each, then five students give rebuttals,
and finish with five summaries.
Homework / Journal Entry
As a result of watching the debate, I think that (Romney or Obama) would be the best
choice for president because
Something that surprised me about the debates was
An informed voter should be a debate watcher. Why or why not?
If I were the moderator of the debates (or if I were Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, Paul
Ryan or Joe Biden), I would have
Additional resources for teachers
PBS offers a history of presidential debates both before television and after at
Constitutional Rights Foundation’s Election Central is a treasure trove of online
resources: www.crf-usa.org/election-central/election-central-lessons.html.
Commission on Presidential Debates. Non-profit group that has sponsored the
presidential and vice-presidential debates since 1988. Current and past information,
including transcripts: www.debates.org/
New York Times Topics: Presidential Debates. Archive of news stories and transcripts
of the presidential debate:
Get some of the early television debate history at the Museum of Broadcast
Communication: Great Debate & Beyond, a history of televised presidential debates
from 1960–2000: www.museum.tv/debateweb/html/index.htm
About polling: this is a complex and important part of the campaign. See Backgrounder
for Polling Resources.