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For Argument's Sake: Playing "Devil's Advocate" with Nonfiction Texts

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For Argument's Sake: Playing "Devil's Advocate" with Nonfiction Texts

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Four 90-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Jonathan Dorn

Jonathan Dorn

Greenville, South Carolina


National Council of Teachers of English



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From Theory to Practice



In this lesson, students adopt the role of "devil's advocate" to debate a series of proposals to reform professional sports. By recognizing potential weaknesses in the proposals and considering the reforms from multiple perspectives, students exercise divergent thinking to inspire debate and achieve a comprehensive understanding of the issues. Using high-interest articles from The Atlantic magazine, students annotate the texts and respond to contentions by generating counterarguments. Students then debate the proposal to eliminate high school sports by representing the interests of stakeholders at a town hall meeting.

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How to Play Devil’s Advocate:  This handout offers a number of ways for students to take an opposing viewpoint or raise an objection to a claim merely for the sake of argument

Town Hall Meeting Guide:  This handout explains the purpose and roles for debate structured around a town hall meeting format

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In “Gateways to Writing Logical Arguments,” Thomas McMann argues that simply teaching students to write an argument is less effective than when students participate in “daily oral interchanges” in which students “[grapple] with problems and [respond] to the persistent questions of Why? So What? and Who says?” (34). McCann goes on to elaborate that when students “discuss an area of doubt, they require support for claims and they invite the consideration of competing arguments and multiple points of view” (34).

Role-playing “devil’s advocate” in a mock town hall meeting requires students to challenge the quality of a claim and assess whether the advantages outweigh the disadvantages of a proposal. By using the topic of sports, which appeals to a significant high school population, students are likely to find the issue relevant and the debate authentic.

McMann, Thomas. “Gateways to Writing Logical Arguments.” English Journal 99.6 (2010): 33-39. Web. 9 March 2014.

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