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Gotham Gazette Grant      << Back to all Grant Winners

The Waterfront Debate

Subject: English/ Humanities

Grade Level: 10

Materials: Newspaper articles, index cards, a video camera (ideal but not required), and, if possible, glue, cardboard, and poster material

About: Students debate a resolution about a planned waterfront community from the point of view of various interest groups.

Students have a "Town Meeting" in which members from each interest group debate their researched opinions for points.

The students take charge! They "become" the various interest groups and design a hands-on model of a waterfront community. They are accountable for their research and use it in an authentic way.

The essential question to help make this project real is "How does access to the water affect a community?" Also, it helps to teach the students that "to document" something is to make a record of it--to record it and preserve it. This project is especially great for English Language Learners who fear public speaking. Also, because gentrification and development have a real impact on many of the students, the topic is very motivating and the kids are passionate about their roles. Finally, if you are in a technical school or like doing hands-on work, making models can really spice things up. It's amazing to see what young developers can envision and compare them to the real models and proposals given by the city.


Students read to distinguish fact from opinion.
Studnets read to determine author’s purpose.
Students use lists and outlines to prepare notes for debates.
Students take notes from documentary, read-aloud, and film.
Students write a newspaper-style article on a blog.
Students use relevant language and accountable talk during debates.
Students prepare rebuttals for arguments.
Students conduct “man on the street” interviews for journal articles.
Students participate in group meetings.
Students analyze what kinds of evidence are more convincing in swaying opinions.

ESL debate lessons help break down the steps of teaching debating skills.
Article for the team representing the developers
An interview about BPC after 9/11--useful for fact gathering by all interest groups
This is a great way to tie in Brooklyn development with Battery Park City.
NY Times article about what a planned waterfront community is--good for all teams
Real Estate and Gentrification article--good for local artist team and developers

Students will read, write, listen, and speak for information and understanding.
Students will read, write, listen, and speak for social interaction.
Students who choose a career major will acquire the career-specific technical knowledge/skills necessary to progress toward gainful employment, career advancement, and success in postsec- ondary programs.
Trade and Technical Education Learning Standards
Students will listen, speak, read, and write in English for critical analysis and evaluation. a rd
use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of how the United States and other societies develop economic systems and associated institutions to allocate scarce resources, how major decision-making units function in the U.S. and other national economies, and how an economy solves the scarcity problem through market and nonmarket mechanisms.
Social Studies
Civics use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of the necessity for establishing governments; the governmental system of the U.S. and other nations; the U.S. Constitution; the basic civic values of American constitutional democracy; and the roles, rights, and responsibilities of citizenship, including avenues of participation.
Social Studies

Day 1: What's it All About?
Students brainstorm word definitions and make connections between broad ideas.
Students discover the central theme of the unit through collaboration and brainstorming.
Music (student choice)
Chart paper
Write "Water" on a chart, write "Document" on another chart, and "Debate" on a third.
Place the charts in different areas of the classroom.
Have students play "musical brainstorm". They walk from chart to chart as the music plays and must write until the music stops.
When the music stops, they switch charts until the music stops. Do this until each group has had a chance to think about each word.
Come together again as a group, and move the chart paper to the front of the room.
Ask the students to reflect on the charts and look for similarities.
Ask the students to try to connect what the three words might create together.
Help the students to realize that "debate," "document," and "water" can all be nouns and verbs, and that to document something is to make a record of it. Why might we want to do that?
Once the students realize that they will be debating a water-related issue and recording the process as journalists, solicit their ideas on how this might happen.
A brainstorm using the words "water" and "community"
Have the students draw a conclusion about the purpose and connection between the three words.

Day 2: What is a resolution and a reason?
Students define key debate terms.
Students create resolutions.
Students determine why some reasons are more powerful than others.
Colored paper
Have students copy key terms: "debate," "resolution," "affirmative team," "negative team," and "rebuttal" in notes.
Review terms with students to make sure they are clear.
Write a resolution on a transparency. Put the opinion part in one color and the reason in another.
List three possible reasons for the opinion side (for example, school should only be three hours long because: school is too hard, students need to make money and can't stay so long, studies show students can't learn as much after an hour.)
Ask the students to hold up the colored piece of paper that they feel was the most convincing reason for the resolution you proposed.
Ask students what made that reason the best one.
Illustrate that supported reasons are stronger than others and better at convincing people. Use of experts, common sense, and clarity of expression all help to convince people.
Have students create a resolution with you. Then have them attempt a reason with you.
Have pairs of students create reasons for three given resolutions. Try using ones that will fire them up such as "money is more important than love" or "boys are less mature than girls."
Share several pairs choices and have students vote on the strongest reasons.
Students create five resolutions on index cards with their names on the opposite side.
Homework; colored-paper survey responses

Day 3: Where's the Evidence?
Students determine various kinds of evidence needed for strong reasoning.
Students practice debating two sides of an issue.
Index cards with resolutions
Students take out their resolution cards from the homework, read a few of them, and have the students vote on one to use for the day.
Ask a student to give a reason to justify the resolution.
Ask students what ways can make the reason clearer.
On an overhead, introduce the kinds of evidence: common sense, expert, and research.
Have students work in pairs to create evidence for resolution of the day--they must create evidence for BOTH sides.
Allow teams to debate--half of the room does the affirmative while the other half does the negative side.
Have students argue the other side.
Help them to use the appropriate words for their evidence "research shows that" or "it's common sense that."
Reflect on what it felt like to argue from both positions.

Day 4: Interest Groups
Students read to gather evidence.
Students discover the point of view of various interest groups.
Students analyze the complexity of developping a waterfront community.
Gazette article & NY Times articles on Battery Park City
Overhead projector and transparency
Cescriptions of interest groups and what they want
Highlighters and index cards
Brainstorm the idea of a planned community--what it means, what it should look like, and what is in it.
Show pictures of Battery Park City.
Ask students what they think it would take to develop a place like that in Brooklyn.
Introduce the idea of interest groups.
Divide class into groups of five and assign them each a role: local residents, artists, union workers, developers, fishermen, etc.
Have the groups brainstorm what they want--and what they would need to get it (in terms of getting their interests represented in creating a community).
Tell them that the resolution they will be debating is that a waterfront community like BPC is neccessary in Brooklyn.
Read the articles and have the groups highlight sentences or paragraphs that could be used to represent their point of view. This might take two class periods.
Help students quote from the articles on index cards and caption each card with the kind of evidence it is, and when and how it might be used in the debate.
Handout--students answer multiple-choice questions about the articles and write down quotes that support their selections.
Answers to handout, preparation of index cards for debate.

Day 5: Battery Park City Trip
Students conduct interviews.
Trip to Battery Park City
Handout with interview questions
Review map and directions of Battery Park City.
With a student, model a poorly done "man on the street" interview.
Allow the class to critique the interview.
Take suggestions from the students on how to correct the interview.
Hand out the procedures for the trip, and review expectations and interview questions.
Have pairs of students practice interviewing each other while pretending to be strangers.
At Battery Park City, pairs of students interview three people. Have them take turns allowing one person to write the answers while the other asks the questions, and switch for the next interview.
Remind students that they will need this information for their article on the blog at the end of the unit.
Write a reflection about the trip, the use of the space, and what it felt like to interview people.

Lauren Davenport


New York Harbor School
25 Warren Place
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Lauren Davenport, formerly a writer and producer for Nickelodeon, became a New York City public school teacher five years ago after joining the NYC Teaching Fellows. She teaches English and enjoys infusing Drama into her classes whenever she can. She is currently teaching a course called Harbor Humanties as well as Advanced Placement English.

Important documents for this lesson plan.

Brooklyn Waterfront Debate Judges Scoring Sheet.doc
con list.doc
debate exam portion & vocab.doc


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