S.T.E.A.M. Day

How debate improves critical thinking skills

When we discussed the science of critical thinking skills, we recognized explicit ways to teach children about the principles of critical and logical thinking. In a 3 year long study, researchers found that a debate-oriented curriculum led to significantly better critical thinking and analyses skills. 

Debate-oriented vs conventional curriculum 

The study separated students into essay writing and debate groups and administered yearly writing tests. In all of the tests, the debate control group showed more complex analytical skills. 

Here’s why

Writing clarifies our thoughts and presents them in a clear and logical manner. In debate, you have to constantly anticipate objections and weigh counterarguments. Balancing perspectives leads to dual perspective arguments in essay writing and a greater focus on thinking about potential counter arguments. The debate students also wrote about topics with an integrative perspective (evaluating the costs and benefits of each position). 

Beyond critical thinking

Debate group students went beyond countering objections to suggest the type of data needed to solve whatever controversy they were writing/debating about. The debate-trained students not only played devil’s advocate with themselves, but also knew what evidence they needed to support their argument. All in all, they could precisely deconstruct an argument and quickly form a general judgement. 


Encouraging analytical thinking at home

At its core, debate makes us ask different questions and think about potential answers. Here are some ways to encourage your child to think from different perspectives: 

  • Asking open ended questions

In school students are led to think about bare facts through “what” questions. Instead, we should challenge them to think about why and how questions, and to relate the answers to their personal experiences. This promotes a deeper level of thinking. 

  • Questioning established knowledge

Questions like “how are you sure of this?” makes children reflect on where they got their information and how reliable the source was.

  • Thinking in more than one dimension ie. non-linearly

Encourage your children to consider the relationship between unrelated ideas to come to a solution. This promotes creative problem solving skills. 

  • Learning how to form and support a cogent argument 
  • Think about issues and situations from different perspectives 

Inspire your children to think about issues from others’ perspectives. This can help them empathize with others by thinking about their concerns.