Tuesday, November 10, 2009


We promised to post information about SPAR. Voila, from IDEA.

Spontaneous Argumentation (SPAR)

SPAR debating has been popularized by John Meany of the Claremont Colleges, but has found its way into a number of college classrooms at top American universities. SPAR debating consists of two debaters drawing a topic for debate out of a hat and then, with a few minutes of preparation, engaging in a quick debate on the subject.

SPAR debating is an enjoyable, exciting, and confidence-building activity. It is an excellent way to reduce speaker anxiety and ensure that students feel at home in your classroom. Because the debate is quick and the audience gets to participate, it is usually a big hit with students. SPAR debates are also excellent tools to get students to practice speaking skills (organization, word choice, metaphors, and logic).

The creativity and excitement of your students limit SPAR debates, so they sometimes fall flat. The debates do not include any research and they can occasionally become more humorous than educational. If you expose students to your expectations and help to guide them, these limitations can be minimized.

In order to use the SPAR debate format, you will need to make a list of topics that you are sure anyone could debate about without any preparation. Seemingly simple topics like crushed ice is better than ice cubes have been very successful. The topics can vary dramatically, and fit well with any classroom subject. You need to brainstorm a number of topics that seem appropriate for your students and the subject that you are teaching.

Affirmative speaker - 1 minute
Negative speaker asks questions of the first affirmative speaker - 1 minute
Negative speaker - 1 minute
Affirmative speaker asks questions of the first negative speaker - 1 minute
Audience questions and comments - 5 minutes

There is no reason that you cannot adapt the format to fit your needs. If you would like to eliminate the audience questions or the questions that the debaters ask of each other, feel free. You should be able to time the debates so that your whole class will fit into the time period you have available. You may wish to frame the SPAR debates with a discussion of what you expect in terms of your students' speaking style. Remind them that they are not held responsible for the contents of their argument, but they should be organized, give previews of their major arguments, and have solid arguments.

Setting up a SPAR debate is easy. Either write the format for the debate on the board or, once you are in the classroom, ask for a pair of volunteers to debate. Have the volunteers come up and draw a topic out of the hat. We sometimes allow them each to draw a topic and then pick the topic that they want to debate. If you do this, be sure to account for the adjusted number of topics when you are preparing. Send the students out of the class for a few minutes to prepare. Immediately repeat the process with another two students, so that there are two sets of students who are preparing at the same time. When you call in the first set of debaters, send out another pair so that the students are staggered and there is never a need to wait for debaters to get ready. After each student you should provide a little bit of commentary about their performance and connect the debate to the larger classroom issues.


  1. SPAR is rarely done in AZ, but when we do, it's run with 3 minute constructives or first speeches, and then 3 minute crossfire, then 2 minutes back and forth.

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