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Debate: Shall the United States Declare War on Great Britain?

Name of Corresponding Unit Plan: War of 1812

Grade Level: 6-12

Common Core Standards
RI.9-10.8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.
RI.5.9 Integrate information from several texts on the same topic in order to write or speak about the subject knowledgeably.
RI.8.9. Analyze a case in which two or more texts provide conflicting information on the same topic and identify where the texts disagree on matters of fact or interpretation.
SL.4.3 Identify the reasons and evidence a speaker provides to support particular points.
RH.11-12.6. Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
WHS.6-8.7. Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources.

Content Areas: Reading, Speaking, History

Recommended Length/Duration: Introduction 30-60 minutes; Preparation 2-5 days; Debate 45-90 minutes

Learning Goals: Students will become familiar with the issues leading up to the War of 1812. Students will do research in support of a particular point of view. Students will present an oral argument persuasively. Students will evaluate the effectiveness of oral arguments.


  1. This debate should be imbedded in a larger study of the causes of the War of 1812.
  2. Discuss the role public debate plays in the development of public policy. Point out that formal debating is often quite different from the public debates we see on television.
  3. Share the address given by President Madison to Congress laying out the issues leading to consideration of declaring war against Great Britain. Introduce the debate proposition: “Be it resolved that the United States should declare war on Great Britain.”
  4. Select debate teams (3-4), moderator (1), time keeper (1), and judges (remainder of class). This can be done by teacher assignment, student choice, or random assignment.
  5. Determine who will argue the pro and con cases. This can be done by teacher assignment, student choice, or random assignment.
  6. Give students time to prepare their cases. Brainstorm potential resources that are available. Emphasize that students need to build a convincing case based on facts. Describe the procedures you will use in the actual debate. (The lesson plan describes a simplified format suitable for inexperienced debate students and teachers. More experienced participants may choose to use a more formal format.)
  7. Hold the debate. Make an effort to maintain a deliberative environment.
  8. Following the debate, discuss what the most convincing arguments were and how they were similar or different from the arguments made by President Madison and Congress in 1812.

Assessments: Students’ debate performance should be rated on the Debate Assessment Rubric, below. This can be done by the teacher, or by the debate judges.

Materials/Resources: Access to research materials, Debate Roles and Madison's address to Congress (pdf).

Special Considerations:This activity is designed to maximize students participation, not to teach formal debate skills. However, there is no reason why the topic could not be used for formal debate competitions.
Debate can be very uncomfortable for some students. Make role assignments in such a way as to maximize success for all participants.

Extensions: Students may want to hold a series of debates around issues related to the War of 1812. Possible topics might include: Canada won the War of 1812; Britain won the War of 1812.


Debate Assessment Rubric

  Exceeds Standard Meets Standard Nearly Meets
Does Not Meet Standard
Research Extensive research evidenced by many pertinent facts to support the case. All opinions were supported by well reasoned evidence. Appropriate facts were presented to support the case. Opinions were supported by evidence and reasonable. A few facts were presented to support the case. Opinions were not supported by evidence. No pertinent facts were presented. Opinions were not support by evidence.
Organization Evidence was presented in an effective, well considered sequence to build support for the case. Evidence was presented in a logical sequence to support the case. Main points were made in isolation and did not connect with one another. Points were made randomly with no apparent organization.
Presentation Voice was clear, confident, and expressive. The speaker actively engaged the audience through eye contact, gestures, and voice modulation. Voice was clear, confident, and expressive. Eye contact was made with the audience. Voice was generally clear and the speaker made an effort to engage the audience. Voice was unclear and tentative. Little effort was made to engage the audience.
Team Work Each member of the team made a critical contribution in support of the case. Each member contributed to the presentation of the case. Only some team members seemed prepared and able to contribute to the presentation of the case. There was no evidence of teamwork or coordination of each member’s contribution to the case.