Tips for Launching SPAR

Tips for launching the SPAR protocol

Learn the Format

Take your time to review materials from a few different sources to get a handle on the SPAR debate format and start considering what, if any, adjustments you might want to make for your particular instructional setting. For example, while the format should remain the same, you might find it useful to revise the timing for each stage of the debate. For example, Argument Centered Education suggests the following timing:

However, in many classrooms that are new to SPAR, it is common to see students finish their opening statements long before the three minute mark and awkwardly stare at each other (or their desks, the wall, etc) while waiting for the next segment to begin. Below is a possible modification for timing for student earliest experiences with SPAR.

Each aspect of the protocol requires specific language and argumentation skills. SPAR debates are an excellent instructional strategy in units that include rhetorical devices as students can intentionally incorporate their understanding of ethos, pathos and logos as they craft arguments. It is also worthwhile, and recommended, to identify language objectives for the various parts of the protocol. For example, explicitly teaching high-frequency academic language structures/ collocations that are commonly read/ heard in opening statements.

Identify Hot Topics in Current & Upcoming Units of Study

While it is certainly possible to practice SPAR debates with random topics, that is an approach better suited to a debate club. Full form SPAR debates are much more productive in a content-area classroom when they are focused on the current unit of study. For example, if you are currently reading Romeo and Juliet, your students might SPAR about that. Here are some example prompts for such a SPAR:

  • Juliet should have agreed with her parents to forget Romeo and marry Paris.

  • Romeo and Juliet are not experiencing real love.

  • Sometimes disobeying our parents is the only right thing to do.

However, for a rapid overview of the debate structure, fun prompts that students are likely/ certain to have enough schema to discuss can be a helpful jumping off point. Some examples:

  • Students should be allowed to use iPhones in class.

  • Students should not be allowed to watch TV on school nights.

  • Social media does more harm than good.

Choose SPAR Approach

In debate competitions, participants are given a random statement that they must argue in the affirmative or negative. Here, we are referring to this as Pop SPAR. While you can certainly use this approach in your classroom, as mentioned above, it is most effective to make the content of the SPAR related to your current unit of study. The following SPAR modifications provide students with opportunities to delve deeper into content while practicing their argumentation and active listening skills.

  • Research SPAR (the approach used in the CS in ELA unit Who Owns Your Face?): Students engaged in structured and independent research on a particular topic in order to develop claims, source evidence, and craft their own reasoning to make those claims compelling and persuasive.

  • Jigsaw SPAR: In this modification, leaners meet in expert groups to share and discuss their claims and evidence. Students who will argue in the affirmative meet in one group; those arguing the negative in another. Of course, you can create smaller, strategic groups comprised of students arguing the same 'side.' This can be paired with Pop, Research, and Fishbowl SPARs as a means to provide further support for students as they craft and refine their arguments.

  • Fishbowl SPAR: In this modification, some students SPAR while others actively listen to the arguments presented and serve as 'judges.' This can be arranged so that multiple groups are sparring at once, each being observed by their own fishbowl OR one group at a time being observed by the rest of the class. With this modification, special consideration needs to be given to pacing, physical space, and structures for students who are observing.

Launch & Reflect

Once you have wrapped your head around the SPAR format and identified how you would like to use it with a particular unit of study, check out the materials provided on the overview page to support the launch. Resources of particular note include:

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