Moral and Legal Status of Animals: Tutorial 1 (Class Debate)

Class Debate: Should animals be granted legal personhood status in Australia?

The learning sequence for these tutorials is designed to assist students to think critically about the moral and legal status of animals in Australian society. After listening to an online presentation outlining the current status of animals under the law and exploring potential alternative philosophical, ethical and legal approaches, students debate the legal status of animals in class by evaluating the question: ‘Should animals be granted legal personhood status in Australia?’

Time Allocation

Two 50 minute tutorials. One tutorial for revision and preparation, and one tutorial for debating and reflection.

Key Inquiry Questions

  • What is the moral status of animals in Australia?
  • What is the current legal status of animals in Australia?
  • What are the arguments for/against altering this status?

Student Preparation

It is presumed that students have watched the online presentation prior to the first tutorial.


TUTORIAL ONE (Revision and Preparation)

  1. REVISION (10 mins)

Ask the class to discuss the following select revision questions listed at the conclusion of the online presentation:

  • How can the view that only human beings have moral status be justified?
  • What is animal welfare law? What is animal rights law and how does it differ from animal welfare law?
  • How can the view that all individual organisms have moral status be justified?
  1. PREPARATION (40 mins)

Explain to the class that in the next tutorial, you will be running a class debate. Explain that the debate is not assessed – it is purely a learning activity.

The topic of the class debate is:

Should animals be granted legal personhood status in Australia?’

Divide the class into two groups – Group A and Group B.

Group A: Assign Group A to the affirmative position – i.e. ‘Animals should be granted legal personhood status in Australia’.

Group B: Assign Group B to the negative position – i.e. ‘Animals should NOT be granted legal personhood status in Australia’.

Ask each group to brainstorm the key arguments supporting their position (20 minutes). These arguments should be written in dot points on a large piece of paper by a nominated scribe. The paper should be divided into a table, with one column dedicated to ‘FOR’ arguments and one column for ‘AGAINST’ arguments. You can access a document outlining some common for/against arguments here.

After 20 minutes, ask the groups to stop brainstorming. The groups should then swap papers so that they can read the arguments outlined by the opposition.

In the empty column, they should write responses for each dot point (20 minutes).

Explain to the class that the rationale for this activity is that their arguments will be strengthened if they actively consider and respond to counter arguments advanced by the opposition. This is a crucial element of ‘critical thinking’.

At the conclusion of class, type up both sheets of paper and post the document to the unit’s online learning environment.

Students should be encouraged to reflect on the arguments in preparation for the debate in the next tutorial.

TUTORIAL TWO (Debate and Reflection)

1. PREPARATION (10 mins)

Prior to class, arrange the classroom seating so that half of the chairs are facing the other half.

At the beginning of class, distribute paper handouts of the preparation activity from the previous tutorial, so that every student has a copy of the for/against arguments.

Divide the students into the same groups (Group A/Group B).

Explain to the students how the tutorial will be structured, and how the debate will run:

  • They will have 5 minutes to assign one point to each member of the group.
  • The debate will then commence, with students from Group A facing students from Group B. Explain that you as the tutor will act as the adjudicator, meaning that you will be guiding the debate but not actively participating yourself.
  • Group A (affirmative) will be invited to speak first. They will be asked to lead as many points as they have members (1 point per member). Explain that as a member of the opposition they can not interrupt during this time. Instead, they should write down any points they wish to raise in response to the arguments put forward so that they can raise them during rebuttal.
  • Group B (negative) will then be invited to respond by leading as many points as they have members (1 point per member).
  • The floor will then be open to rebuttal from both sides. Explain that they must receive your permission as adjudicator before engaging in rebuttal by raising their hand to speak (this prevents students from talking over each other). Explain that although there is no limitation on the extent of participation, time is limited and all team members should have the opportunity to participate as equally as possible.

After explaining the structure, give the students 5 minutes to assign one dot point to each student.

2. DEBATE (30 mins)

Run the debate. If certain speakers are dominating the rebuttal discussion, actively invite participation from quieter members of the team. Although the time split will differ according to class size, it should generally run as follows:

  • Group A leads points (5 mins);
  • Group B leads points (5 mins);
  • Rebuttal (20 mins).

3. REFLECT (10 mins)

Invite students to reflect on the activity. Explain that as this activity is not assessed, there are no ‘winners’. The purpose of the activity was to encourage them to engage in critical discussion about the arguments for/against granting legal personhood to animals in Australia. Potential prompts for reflection: Did this activity challenge your perspective on the topic? What arguments did you find the most persuasive and why?



Written Reflection

Task description and rationale

This task aims to assist students to develop their reflective writing and critical thinking skills by asking them to write a reflection on their tutorial debate experience.

Suggested preparation

Students should be familiarised with the concept of reflective thinking and writing.

Task length

1000 words.

Links to Module Intended Learning Outcomes

1, 2, 3.

Assessment criteria

This assessment requires students to:

  • Develop a clear, well-structured piece of writing;
  • Demonstrate critical thinking and reflection on the arguments raised in the debate;
  • Reflect on their own learning and responses to the activity;
  • Reflect on their own preferred position and the positions of others;
  • Demonstrate accurate spelling, punctuation and grammar and accurate and comprehensive referencing.


To help us improve our materials, we would appreciate any written reflections, feedback or thoughts you would like to share:

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