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What Is a Debate?


Debating competitions used to be populated by nerds in white-starched shirts and ties. Those days are over! In schools across the world, and especially in urban schools, debate teams are becoming quite popular again.

What Is a Debate?

Basically, a debate is an argument with rules.

Debating rules will vary from one competition to another, and there are several formats for debates. Debates can involve single-member teams or teams that include several students.

Typically in a debate two teams are presented a resolution or topic that they will debate, and each team is given a set period of time to prepare an argument.

Students typically don't know their debate subjects ahead of time. The goal is to come up with a good argument in a short amount of time. Students are encouraged to read about current events and controversial issues to prepare for debates.

Sometimes school teams will encourage individual team members to choose special topics and focus on them. This can give a team special strengths in certain topics.

At a debate, one team will argue in favor (pro) and the other will argue in opposition (con). Sometimes each team member speaks, and sometimes the team selects one member to speak for the entire team.

A judge or a panel of judges will assign points based on the strength of the arguments and the professionalism of the teams. One team is usually declared the winner and that team will advance to a new round.

A typical debate includes:

  1. Students hear the topic and take positions (pro and con)
  2. Teams discuss their topics and come up with statements
  3. Teams deliver their statements and offer main points
  4. Students discuss the opposition's argument and come up with rebuttals
  5. Rebuttals delivered
  6. Closing statements made

Each of these sessions is timed. For instance, teams may have only 3 minutes to come up with their rebuttal.

Debate Facts

  • By participating on a debate team, students learn the art of persuasion.

  • Research has shown that participation in debates increases students' academic performance and increases their chances of earning a college degree.

  • Urban debate teams are making a strong comeback.

  • A school team will prepare to compete in local, regional, and national tournaments.

  • Many colleges offer summer programs that teach debating skills.

  • Students benefit from preparing for debates by honing their research skills.

  • Students also benefit from the experience of speaking in public.

  • Students can start a debate team in their own schools. If you are interested, you should do some research to find out how to start a club in your school.
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