Review by Stephanie Trautman, Common Sense Education | Updated July 2015

Room for Debate

Experts examine, dissect, and discuss critical issues

Subjects & skills
  • Social Studies

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: Every debate features multiple perspectives from knowledgeable sources.

Cons: The wealth of information could be tough for some kids to navigate.

Bottom Line: A helpful site for exploring multiple perspectives on key current events and hot topics.

Room for Debate would be a great option for students who are having class discussions around a current event. To set the stage, teachers could talk about the building blocks of rhetorical communication; some discussion around bias, opinion, ethos, pathos, and logos would be a good fit here.  Teachers can also delve into discussions about the media and its effect on viewers and readers. 

The site might also be used for research purposes: Students could research topics for an upcoming class debate, research paper, or position paper. Because there are so many sources involved, students could use the site as a place to gather evidence for arguments and counter-arguments. When collecting evidence from different resources, it’s always good to encourage students to think about the source and ask themselves if it's reliable, authoritative, and useful. Be sure to have kids think critically about who these authors are and what biases might shape their perspectives.

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Room for Debate is The New York Times’s opinion site where knowledgeable commentators share perspectives on recent events in the news. The site allows users to review topics as well as view various opinions on each topic. Each article is intended to be persuasive, highlighting the author and their perspective. Each comes with a highlighted segment of text to give readers a quick glimpse at the author’s main argument. Discussions are easily navigable, and some topics may be well suited for high school students.

Reader comments are moderated Monday through Friday on the site and, notably, The New York Times chooses important comments; readers’ picks of comments are also highlighted. It's important to note that this site is created for a general readership, not for education. Nevertheless, topics and discussions can relate nicely to history, English, or humanities studies.

There are tons of topics to explore, including some that students may not be completely familiar with, like "The A.D.A. 25 Years Later" or "Racist Symbols to Reconsider." The depth at which these topics are covered is wonderful: Opinions are shared from all sides of a topic, giving readers the chance to consider new perspectives and agree with, go against, or empathize with others. Other than reading about the different opinions, students will not take an especially active role in the site, so teachers may need to offer extension activities to make the learning here more meaningful. There are no tutorials or help sections, so students will have to be reliable, independent workers, or teachers should expect to help them navigate certain topics.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Some students are bound to be interested in the wide variety of topics and wealth of perspectives; others may get bogged down with information overload.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

There's lots of room for meaning-making on the site, as long as students are willing to sift through multiple viewpoints on a given topic. The site isn't geared toward students, so they may need scaffolding while using it.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

As a section ofThe New York Times website, Room for Debate is easy to navigate, but it doesn't offer much support for students unfamiliar with the topics.

Common Sense Reviewer
Stephanie Trautman Classroom teacher

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