Learning to Give, Philanthropy education resources that teach giving and civic engagement

Debating Responsibility
Lesson 4
Academic Standards
Philanthropy Framework


Students gain insight into differing perspectives by examining a scenarios and engaging in a debate about the benefits/consequences of taking or avoiding responsibility. 


One 20-minute lesson


The learner will:

  • analyze a situation dealing with responsibility.
  • examine a situation from a point of view.
  • present arguments from one point of view.



Service Experience:

Although this lesson contains a service project example, decisions about service plans and implementation should be made by students, as age appropriate.
Learn more about the stages of service-learning.

This character education mini-lesson is not intended to be a service learning lesson or to meet the K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice. The character education units will be most effective when taught in conjunction with a student-designed service project that provides a real world setting in which students can develop and practice good character and leadership skills.  For ideas and suggestions for organizing service events go to www.generationon.org.


  • Student copies of Attachment One: Debate Guidelines
  • Student copies of Attachment Two: Debate Scenarios
Handout 1
Debate Guidelines
Handout 2
Debate Scenarios

Teacher Preparation:

Rationale for debate experience:  Given that Abe Lincoln was a debater and given that any scenario has two sides or multiple perspectives, the debate format was selected to give students a "forced field" experience when examining a scenario. The guidelines have been provided to assist the process. This lesson provides extensions as well. This lesson may take longer than 20 minutes.

Instructional Procedure(s):

Teacher Note: Form the students into two groups. One group is assigned the pro side, and one is the con side. You may post the names in advance on the board under Pro and Con. It is recommended that you choose the scenario from Attachment Two that will have the most meaning for your class. Alternative: establish the debate team of 4-5 students per side, with the remainder of the class divided in sub groups (pro and con). Each Pro and Con group works on arguments, feeding their ideas to the 4-5 students who will present. During the debate, the non-debating students become the audience.

Anticipatory Set:

Tell the students that, like Lincoln, they are going to debate an issue related to taking responsibility. In a few minutes, they will be given a scenario to read and debate.

  • Teacher: Today, we are going to continue our examination of the benefits/consequences of being responsible by debating the pros and cons of  a scenario. In order to make this a positive experience, let's briefly review the organization of a debate and the rules of debate. The purpose of debate is to see both sides of a situation. You will be assigned either the pro side or the con side of taking responsibility in a given scenario.
    • First, you will work with your team to develop arguments and then debate.
    • The pro side will speak first, explaining why the student should act responsibly in the given scenario. Then the con side presents.
    • Then the pro side may ask questions and challenge the con side. And then the con side may ask questions.
    • Finally, each side has one minute to summarize their position.
  • The rules of debate: 
    • presentation should speak directly to the question.
    • presenter must remain calm in presenting views
    • no name calling or put downs are allowed
    • respect for each other must be maintained at all times.
  • Ask the students if they have any questions about the procedures of debate or the rules.
  • Hand out  the designated scenario(s). Advise them that they have 5 minutes to chat within their team on their position, then they will present their position, following debate guidelines.
  • Debate begins:  Pro side has four mintues to present; Con side has four minutes to present.  Pro side has two minutes to ask clarifying questions.  Con side has two minutes to ask clarifying questions.  Each side has one minute to prepare their last statement on why they believe their position is best.  Pro side has one minute for stating their conclusion.  Con side has one minute for stating their conclusion.
  • Reflect with the students on what is the best position to take in the scenario.

Cross-Curriculum Extensions:

A second day of debates can occur using the one of the other scenarios provided.

OR  three days of debates can occur with the following changes:

The teacher can elect to change the structure of  the group process by having the classroom divided into three debate teams with equal numbers of students on both the Pro side and the Con side.  Each group can be provided a scenario which will be debated.  Each group (Pro side and Con side) would have 4-5 minutes to prepare their positions/presentations. The debate format, as listed, would be followed.  The non-presenting groups would become the audience for the group debating.


Handout 1Print Handout 1

Debate Guidelines

Purpose of debate: to see both sides of a situation

Pro side considers the benefits/consequences of acting responsibly
Con side considers the benefits/consequences of ignoring the responsibility
Structure of debate:
1. Planning: both Pro and Con work with their teams to develop arguments to support their position.
2. Presentation: Pro presents first; Con presents second.
3. Questions: Pro asks clarifying questions (to understand position) of Con; Con asks clarifying questions of Pro.
4. Summary: Pro presents main points of Pro argument; Con presents main points of Con argument.
Rules for debate:
1. Presentation should speak directly to the question posed within the situation.
2. Presenter (s) must remain clam in presenting view or asking questions.
3. Respect for each other and right to have a differing opinion must be maintained at all times.

Handout 2Print Handout 2

Debate Scenarios

Teacher Note: Select the scenario that is most applicable to your class, allow the students to select the scenario they would like to dabate, or create a scenario that best fits your school or class.
Scenario #1:
Noah sees the same bully tormenting the same victim every day in school, and nobody tells a teacher about it. Should Noah speak up and risk being labeled as a “tattletale,” or should he ignore it and mind his own business? What’s best for the victim? What’s best for Noah?
Scenario #2
Josie has been getting thinner and thinner. Her friends compliment her on how good she looks in several outfits. You’ve noticed that Josie isn’t eating lunch or when she does join the girls for lunch, she picks at her food. You’re growing concerned about Josie’s health. Is she anorexic? You’ve subtlety questioned Josie, but she says she isn’t and is just thin! You’re thinking about talking with the school counselor about Josie. Should you share your concerns or should you not? What if Josie finds out that you’ve talked about her behind her back? What’s best for Josie?
Scenario #3
Last Saturday night’s party was a great time! Kids were talking, laughing, dancing, and mixing with each other. Mike, a tight-end on the football team, was enjoying himself until he realized that Andrew, the QB, was spiking his own Coke with alcohol--a team rule violation! Because they are friends on the field, Mike tells Andrew he doesn’t think Andrew should be drinking. What if coach finds out? Andrew says coach will never know! What should Mike do? Let it go? Tell the coach? What would the other players do if they found out Mike told? But…drinking is a rule violation…what’s best for the team?

Philanthropy Framework:

Submit a Comment

All rights reserved. Permission is granted to freely use this information for nonprofit (noncommercial), educational purposes only. Copyright must be acknowledged on all copies.