Engage Your Class in the Great Chocolate Milk Debate

Erin Burns

Editor's note: Both Storyworks and Storyworks Jr. feature debates in every issue. We try to tackle topics that kids really care about—and the debate from the December 2016/January 2017 issue of Storyworks about whether schools should ban chocolate milk definitely fits the bill! We love seeing creative ways you teach our debates, and we just had to highlight this amazing, effective strategy from New York teacher Erin Burns. The best part: You can use it with any debate.Without further ado, here's Erin's 4-day debate plan:

Day 1

What you'll need:

  • Storyworks magazine
  • Highlighter
  • Pen

Students read the debate aloud. We look through it to see what facts we can pull out to prove both sides of the argument. We highlight the strongest evidence. Together we fill in the "What Do You Think?" activity at the bottom of the page. Students then choose the side they feel most strongly about. At this point we break into teams to design a poster to inform the public. This month we tackled the debate of whether chocolate milk should be banned from schools.

Days 2-3

What you'll need:

  • Poster board or construction paper
  • Markers, rulers, colored pencils, etc.
  • Storyworks magazine (to reference back)

Students will work together to design a poster to represent their argument. We focus on how to best organize information and grab people’s interest. Students begin discussing their phrasing.

Day 4

Students have the opportunity to show their work and share with their classmates. We then hang their posters in the hallway and keep them on display for the month. Students are in a different reading group who are pulled from the class get to hear the debate and look at the posters. They conference with their group and pick the side of the debate that has persuaded them. They must have at least three reasons why they were persuaded. This gives time for both debate teams to reflect on their work and to get feedback on what worked or what didn’t.


I was so impressed with (and amused by) my students' rationale. These quotes, from children who wanted to ban chocolate milk, cracked me up:

“Chocolate milk may be good for your bones, but it will help rot your teeth.”

“16 tsp. of sugar? Do you know what that really looks like? I mean, it’s like drinking mashed up M&Ms!"

And from my students who want chocolate milk to stick around:

“You may take my chocolate milk, but it will make me drink juice, and that has a lot of sugar too—so what’s the difference?”

“It does have sugar, no argument there, but….it has 30% of my daily dose of calcium, and that is sweet!”

The audience that watched the debate and looked at the posters ultimately sided with the group that advocated keeping chocolate milk in schools. They were convinced by the point that everything seems to have sugar in it these days, and at least the milk provided some good nutrients. The "judges" also agreed that if kids knew about the sugar, they could choose it as a treat instead of as a daily drink. And they decided that this group's posters were more visually appealing.

It's so heartening to see how much effort my students put into these activities. And it's fascinating to see the ways they try to convince their peers of their opinion. This is exactly why the Storyworks debate is one of my favorite stories to teach—and there's no debating that!

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