Great Planetary Debate

Students will work in groups of two to research a given planetary body in the solar system. They will then "defend their planet/moon" while competing against other teams in a Great Planetary Debate. Materials:
  • Pen or pencil
  • Access to library and/or computers (or cart of applicable books brought to room)


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Courtesy of Jennifer Bergman.
Grade level:
7 - 12
Prep time to make copies and reserve library or computer time and approximately 5-6 days class time for students
Student Learning Outcomes:
  • Students will gain in-depth knowledge on a given planetary body in the solar system.
  • Students will share their knowledge through writing and through presenting to the class.
Lesson format:
Research, writing and presentation activity

Standards Addressed:


  1. Teacher should read through the Student Research Sheet and Teacher Assessment Sheet. The teacher will want to make any changes with regard to schedule and organization to those two sheets prior to making copies (one copy of each for student). When using this activity in the classroom, have EACH student fill out a Student Research Sheet (in case one is absent, suspended, etc.)

    For flow of activity and general timing, see Student Research Sheet. Depending on class size and class level, timing for class may vary.

  2. After students have been given the Student Research Sheet and Assessment Sheet, the teacher will want to go through the Student Research Sheet in detail, emphasizing important points with the class. You should make it clear that the final goal in doing their research is so that students will be able to "defend" their planet/moon against all others. That is, at the end of each debate set (see tournament brackets below), students in the class will vote on which of the two bodies they would rather visit. So the goal of the defending students during the debate is to convince their voting classmates that their planet/moon is the most interesting place to visit of the two bodies.
  3. After students have paired up and have completed research on their given planet or moon, they should write an opening statement (to be given by one student) and a closing statement (to be given by other student). These statements should bring out many details about the planet or moon they studied and of course, should be interesting! The rebuttal time could be given by either student or both students and doesn't need to be written out beforehand. During rebuttal time, students should address what the other team has said.
  4. The following is a debate format which is extremely simple and makes sure each debate doesn't take up too much time!

    Team One's Opening Statement (30 seconds)
    Team Two's Opening Statement (30 seconds)
    Team One's Rebuttal Time (90 seconds)
    Team Two's Rebuttal Time (90 seconds)
    Team One's Closing Statement (30 seconds)
    Team Two's Closing Statement (30 seconds)

    Hopefully, the following tournament brackets will cover your classroom needs (extra branches can, of course, be drawn in). For simplicity's sake, have construction paper squares for each student (have them pick up one black one and one red one upon entering class). At the end of each debate, students vote for the planet they want to visit using their colored cards (see tournament brackets). This makes counting very easy and takes away any personal nature in the voting.
    Tournament Bracket for a Classroom of 24 Students (working in pairs)
    Tournament Bracket for a Classroom of 29 Students (working in pairs, with one person working alone)

  5. A comment from a teacher -- This was by far one of the most popular activities with my students that we did in the whole schoolyear! I had students really get into this, creating extreme sports that could be done on their planet alone, or spending an hour researching their opponents' planet/moon the day before their debate. I also was always surprised by the results (so different from class to class). I was pleasantly surprised to see that the popular kids didn't always win and the planets/moons that you would think would be popular didn't always win!


Teacher Assessment Sheet - A Suggested Rubric



Students should use these sites to research the possibility of life on other planets or moons:

Last modified February 28, 2006 by Jennifer Bergman.

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