I can't believe I am saying this, but I am starting to miss the regular drama of the presidential debates. All of the pivots, hyperbole, and attempts to capture my heart (I mean vote) added more excitement to my fall and winter than maybe I would have admitted a few months ago. I know my students miss cozying up to their TVs with a mug of cocoa and their phones to live tweet responses to what HE or SHE said that night.
Good news is there is a way to recreate the drama of the debates in the classroom. I stumbled on this little gem of a game called The Contender while I was rolling through my Twitter feed one day and thought this would be the perfect way to 'recreate' the debates in my own classroom.
I decided to give it a trial run on Super Tuesday Eve. After a round of mock caucus and voting, my students were handed stacks of the topic and argument cards and given marching orders.
It plays a lot like the game Apples to Apples, or as my kids pointed out, "oh, this is just like Cards Against Humanity!" Each player selects five argument cards that feature attacks, distracts, and facts. Players take turns as the moderator, and start a round by selecting a topic card. The topic card poses a policy question, and candidates (the remaining players not taking a turn as the moderator) answer the questions with the argument cards they hold in their hand. The 'best' answer to the moderator's topic card wins, and is totally subjective.
What is really fun is that the argument cards feature actual comments made during past presidential debates. There is a brief blurb at the bottom of the card that puts the quote in context from its original use.
Does it work in the government classroom?
Student verdict: Fun. Students say The Contender feels a lot like games they already play, but interjects real-world examples of candidate answers. It also helps them understand the point of a pivot in a debate. Students have asked to play again multiple times since our first experience.
Teacher verdict: An instructional innovation. In my content, I am supposed to cover linkage institutions. Parties, the media, and elections are all considered linkage institutions. During debates, these three institutions come together in a very public way. The Contender helps students understand how candidates use pivots (distracts), attacks, and facts to answer questions that are uncomfortable, unanswerable in the time allotted, or not on the agenda of that candidate's platform.
How would I use it? I see using this as a way to teach how debates work. I would introduce the terms "attack," "distract," and "fact" through the game play, and then have my kids watch debates live. It would be great to have the kids live tweet upcoming presidential debates, and have them tweet their favorite attack, distract, and/or fact as the debate unfolds. I am positive it would start great conversations, as well as help with critical thinking skills.
In between debates, I may even take this home and play with some friends over the weekend. Certainly the booster pack from the 2016 debates (coming soon) will be the NSFW addition that my weekend play needs. (Isn't it sad that the debates are marginally NSFW?)
Photo via Flickr/Ted Eytan