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Lesson Idea: Debates


Students will watch and evaluate Presidential debates from previous Election years and determine the speakers’ positions, message, and effectiveness of that message. Students will then evaluate the effect of the debate on the overall election and election result.

  • Students will identify important issues from the Presidential Debates.
  • Students will evaluate the effectiveness of the speakers’ message
  • Students will evaluate the debate to determine its effect on the Presidential Election
  1. Teachers should choose which debate students will evaluate. Students can be assigned a debate as homework, or it can be watched during class. The class can view the same debate, or small groups can each be assigned different debates or sections of a debate. To save time, teachers may wish to choose sections/issues of one debate. Video links to presidential election debates are included below. 
  2. Students should watch the debate or debate sections and fill out the “Debate Guide and Evaluation” worksheet. Once the debate is complete and the chart has been filled out, have students complete the summary question below the chart.
  3. Students should then fill out the first six questions on the “Debate Discussion Questions” worksheet. Students should discuss the questions in small groups, and then together as a class.



Students will write a position paper on one of the three “Extension Questions” from the Debate Discussion Questions handout. Students should include specific examples from the debate(s) in their paper in addition to conducting additional research as necessary.


Extension Activity

Have students choose a specific election year in which the candidates participated in one or more televised debates. Students should conduct research on one of the elections and determine what effect, if any, the debates had on the election outcome. Students should include specific examples from the debate and their election research to defend their reasoning. Students can report their findings in a research paper, PowerPoint presentation, or any other applicable method. Additional evaluation activities can be found on the C-SPAN Classroom Deliberations website. 


Presidential and Vice Presidential Debate Videos
2016 Presidential Debates--Hillary Clinton (D) and Donald Trump (R)
2016 VP Debate— Tim Kaine (D) and Mike Pence (R)

2012 Presidential Debates--Barack Obama (D) and Mitt Romney (R)
2012 VP Debate—Joe Biden (D) and Paul Ryan (R)
2008 Presidential Debates--Barack Obama (D) and John McCain (R)
2008 VP Debate—Joe Biden (D) and Sarah Palin (R)
2004 Presidential Debates--George W. Bush (R) and John Kerry (D)
2004 VP Debate—Dick Cheney (R) and John Edwards (D)
2000 Presidential Debates- George W. Bush (R) and Al Gore (D)
2000 VP Debate—Dick Cheney (R) and Joe Lieberman (D)
1996 Presidential Debates—Bill Clinton (D) and Bob Dole (R)
1996 VP Debate—Al Gore (D) and Jack Kemp (R)
1992 Presidential Debates—Bill Clinton (D), George H.W. Bush (R), and Ross Perot (I)
1992 VP Debate—Al Gore (D), Dan Quayle (D), and James Stockdale (I)
1988 Presidential Debates—George H.W. Bush (R) and Michael Dukakis (D)
1988 VP Debate—Dan Quayle (D) and Lloyd Bentsen (D)
1984 Presidential Debates—Ronald Reagan (R) and Walter Mondale (D)
1984 VP Debate—George H.W. Bush (R) and Geraldine Ferraro (D)
1980 Presidential Debates—Ronald Reagan (R) and Jimmy Carter (D)
1976 Presidential Debates—Jimmy Carter (D) and Gerald Ford (R)
1976 VP Debates—Walter Mondale (D) and Bob Dole (R)
1960 Presidential Debates—John Kennedy (D) and Richard Nixon (R)