Debate Able Logo
November 2016
The Truth Behind Internet Evidence

In debate, every argument starts with a claim: a statement that has more than one perspective. Like, "Organic food is healthier than non-organic food," or "The United States should continue to fund space exploration." Claims are different from facts, which are always either true or false. For example, "Today is Tuesday" is a statement of fact-- whether or not it's actually Tuesday and whether or not you're aware of what day it is. There is only one possible truth: either it is or it is not Tuesday. We know a statement is a debatable claim when it is arguable.
For debaters, stating a claim is just the beginning. To make a full argument, they need to support their claim with evidence, and use reasoning to tie the two together. In DebateAble clubs, we spend a lot of time developing kids' reasoning skills, but lately we've been thinking a lot about evidence and how to better teach kids to be selective and evaluate the quality of their evidence before including it in their arguments. Although learning to reason is crucial to kids' critical thinking skills, the ability to find and correctly use verified evidence, the foundation of every solid argument, is becoming increasingly tricky.
In today's information-saturated society, most news comes from the internet and television  and social media has become a primary source of information for many of us.  The tremendous number of online resources currently available make it possible to locate "evidence" that supports almost any theory or claim that we can come up with. Just this Thursday, in a news conference from Germany, President Obama made an impassioned speech against the glut of false news and misinformation, warning about the threat they pose to our democracy.
In a recent  article for The Guardian , parent and author Tim Lott addressed the issue as it relates to children, referring to the internet as a "tool for irrationality" and lamenting his daughter's adoption of a media conspiracy theory based on "facts" from various web sites. He referred to  a piece from the New York Times, which suggests that the sheer volume of fake news today overpowers even the most diligent and independent online fact checkers, making them largely ineffective.

And so, knowing that the internet will continue to be a primary source of evidence, how do we teach kids to be more discerning, guiding them through this new era when even adults are fooled by questionable news sources? 
For starters, take a look at the International Literary Society's interactive worksheet , Is This A Hoax: a list of considerations for young researchers to use when evaluating web-based evidence. In addition, as a reference for specific fake web sites and stories, check out the award-winning Snopes' website for their Field Guide-- even as we remember that there's no infallible resource and that the truest path is through cross-checking multiple resources.
Meanwhile, to get you and your debaters started, we put together a short list of questions that are worth considering when evaluating the veracity of any online news:
1) Who created the web page?
2) When was it created?
3) Is the author connected with an organization or media outlet?
  *What can you find out about that organization/media?
  *Are all or most of the articles on its web page(s) sensationalized--
    exaggerated,  magnified, urgent breaking news?
4) Does the author offer more than one perspective in the article?
5) Does the author's writing give you the feeling that they're desperate to make you believe the content?
6) Does the web page appear professional, or are the graphics sensationalized, with many pop ups, pictures and different fonts using frequent bold and italics?
7) Which websites link to the page you're evaluating? Knowing this will help you to understand what organizations or groups are directing readers to the page. (Find this by typing the link or URL in the search box of a search engine such as Google.)

Teaching ourselves and our children to be smart about the evidence we rely on is the first and best step to creating effective arguments-- no matter what positions we take.

Director, DebateAble
From Coach Melanie Wienecke,
Lawton and Coe Debate Clubs.
Seattle, Washington

We play a lot of games in debate.  The games we play are fun and facilitate team building, and each game teaches critical debate skills such as careful listening, quick thinking, and being comfortable speaking in front of others. 
When we finish playing a game, I ask the debaters to think about why we played that game in debate and what skills it could help develop. I ask them to reflect on what ways they are already using those skills in their lives, and how they can further develop these skills. Self reflection is a great way for the debaters to discover that they already have a lot of skills and strengths. It then provides a means for setting goals to build on those strengths. Self reflection can also build critical thinking skills by providing opportunities to ask, "Am I doing this the best I can?  Are there other ways that it could be done better?" 
As often as possible, I allow time for self reflection during debate. And games.


Every newsletter we suggest a new topic to share with your debaters. P ractice the skills DebateAble students learn by taking the side you are least passionate about to make it more challenging.

"The internet is more valuable than the library."

Can you debate the Affirmative and Negative sides of this topic?

Some things to think about when you make your argument ...
Number of users


Starting a Debate Club at your school is easy!
We can help - contact us to find out how to make it happen!

DebateAble LLC 
© 2015