The Great Debate: Hamlet vs. Jed Bartlet of The West Wing

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This fun & engaging TEAM DEBATE assignment is designed to heighten and enhance students’ analytical and communication abilities by comparing protagonists from two dramas: William Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing (“Two Cathedrals” episode).

Student teams will tackle this question:

“Who is the more interesting and complex character, Hamlet or Jed Barlet?”

NOTE: Though not required, having students complete the precursor “Princes & Presidents” (see separate listing) poster project individually should prepare them better for this team exercise. (It can also help them self-select their argument position for the debates.) Moreover, it is recommended that students begin the entire analytical process by experiencing the Literary Analysis Meets The West Wing exercise (see separate listing) where they partake in general analysis of the “Two Cathedrals” episode. This will provide helpful context and equip students well for any future analysis or other pursuits related to these works and characters. So, the recommended sequence of exercises would be:

- Literary Analysis Meets The West Wing
- Princes & Presidents poster project
- The Great Debate: Hamlet vs. Jed Bartlet

This debate exercise encourages students to select and argue a highly subjective position involving nebulous language, thereby forcing them to define elements and dig deep into character analyses to support their positions. As a team, students must not only develop criteria for what “interesting” and “complex” mean, but also analyze these two significant characters whose contexts and themes converge and diverge in compelling ways.

For Teachers:

- The debate should occur after students have completed reading/viewing both dramas and experienced some discussion/analysis already. (Again, it would be most beneficial & enriching to complete the Literary Analysis Meets the West Wing and Princes & Presidents exercises as precursors to this debate.)

- The debate could be done in 1 day with planning & preparation encompassing about 2-3 days. (Of course, this can vary depending on students, team dynamics, and teacher discretion.)

- Teams can be randomly assigned, or you may allow students to self-select based on their choices from the “Princes & Presidents” poster project. (If this results in overly unbalanced teams, feel free to take volunteers to accept the intellectual challenge of flipping sides or using teacher assigned teams.)

- Students will take on distinct roles: Oral Presenter (Intro, Conclusion, Argument, Rebuttal) or Support (Research, Analysis, Writing) Staff

- All members’ roles will be valued as equal contributions, and each team will be evaluated on a combination of written preparation and performance, including analysis, strategy, clarity, persuasiveness, and presentation (See enclosed team rubric). Moreover, EVERY team member will evaluate the contributions of EVERY team member, including a self-evaluation (See enclosed team evaluation template).

NOTE: Enclosed rubric assumes a total of 60 points (4 elements x 3 point scale x 5)

- The enclosed assignment handout plans for two (2) debates involving four (4) teams. (This presumes 2 teams in support of each character). The debates would last about 12 minutes each, leaving ample time for 2 debates, de-briefs, etc., in a 40-50 minute class period. Of course, these specifications can be adapted and adjusted according to needs, timing, and objectives. (See handout with debate format included.)

- After completion of the debates, it can be fun to offer some “People’s Choice Awards” for exceptional team or individual performances, like “Best Opening/Closing” or “Best Rebuttal” (See enclosed ballot suggestion). It’s also fun to name the awards, like “The Oscars”, based on school mascots (e.g. “The Tiggers” or “The Raiders”) or based on something Shakespearean (e.g. “The Ophelias” or “[insert your Shakespearean insult here]”, like “Onion-eyed Canker-blossoms”).

NOTE: Of course, teams & individuals may not vote for themselves.

-Another fun post-debate activity is to offer teams bonus credit if any member Tweets (or posts on other social media) one of their team’s best arguments in 140 characters, using a hashtag (e.g. #HamletVsJed).

- Student teams will submit their written notes for each of the debate elements - Introduction, Argument, Rebuttal, Conclusion. (See SAMPLE notes attached).
Total Pages
Answer Key
Rubric only
Teaching Duration
3 Days

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The Great Debate: Hamlet vs. Jed Bartlet of The West Wing
The Great Debate: Hamlet vs. Jed Bartlet of The West Wing
The Great Debate: Hamlet vs. Jed Bartlet of The West Wing
The Great Debate: Hamlet vs. Jed Bartlet of The West Wing