Classroom Debate

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Classroom Debate
Classroom debate, in which teams explore arguments for and against a specific proposition, can be an effective and practical teaching tool. Debating allows several different qualities to emerge, including collecting and organizing ideas, evaluating ideas, seeing logical connections between ideas, adapting to new situations quickly and efficiently, and speaking persuasively.
Language and Delivery in Debate. Like public speaking, effective debate speaking is clear, well-organized, and informative. The audience is a big part of debate, and as the audience is acting as a judge in the debate, the debaters should remember a few additional rules. The audience is not like a courtroom judge, so the debater should not deliver as many facts as possible in a short time. The debater should connect the information and present it to the audience as a completed work, not short facts haphazardly glued together. The language used in debate contributes to this completeness by being intelligible, free of jargon and clich├ęs. Transitions are the key to a good debate. Debaters need to give verbal signposts so the audience can follow the outline.

Attitude of Speakers. Debate is controversial and controversy often becomes heated. However, trying to attack opponents gains nothing. Debaters should show respect for opponents and for the worth of ideas, as well as displaying courtesy and fair-mindedness at all times. It is not realistic to take a "right or wrong" attitude toward debate. Speakers should never forget that a good debate is an honest attempt to provide the audience/judge with two different answers to the question asked in the proposition. Debate instructs its participants in the intricate art of effectively communicating without attacking and alienating others. Although the debate framework suggests two mutually exclusive answers, the knowledge and reasoning the debaters present may suggest possible compromise or collaborate solutions.

Proposition'>DEBATE FORMAT

Proposition. The instructor should give the two debating teams a proposition to debate or allow the two teams to agree upon a proposition. The proposition should take a definite stance on an issue. The affirmative will support the proposition and the negative team will deny the affirmative's stance. The proposition should follow this format: (example) "Resolved: That the U.S. would be justified in significantly increasing trade restrictions."

Order and Time Limits in Debate. The debate format follows a specific order. The affirmative team speaks first and last. Classroom debate can have one to three members per team. The following debate format takes 40 minutes to complete.

- 1st Affirmative speech (affirmative team member #1)--6 mins

- Cross-examination by negative team member #3--2 mins

- 1st Negative speech (negative team member #1)--6 mins

- Cross-examination by affirmative team member #3--2 mins

- 2nd Affirmative speech (affirmative team member #2)--6 mins

- Cross-examination by negative team member #3--2 mins

- 2nd Negative speech (negative team member #2)--6 mins

- Cross-examination by affirmative team member #3--2 mins

- Negative rebuttal speech (negative team member #3)--4 mins

- Affirmative rebuttal speech (affirmative team member #3)--4 mins


1st Affirmative Speech. The affirmative team supports the resolution. The 1st affirmative speech is the only prepared speech in the debate. There are four structural elements in building an affirmative debate case. The elements are:

Proposition (judgment expressed in a declarative sentence)

Issues (assertions that function as basic reasons for adoption of proposition)

Argument (assertions that are the result of reasoning)

Evidence (statement of fact or opinion which makes an assertion acceptable to the audience).


Proposition: Resolved: That the U.S. would be justified in significantly increasing trade restrictions.

Issue One: I. National security considerations would justify increasing trade restrictions because:

Argument: A. Highly technical products reach our adversaries.

Evidence: 1. Secretary of State testimony regarding loss of important computer advance to communist world.

2. Defense Department reports on military equipment sold through third parties.

Issue Two: etc.
Cross-examination. This is the only point in the debate in which the two teams interact. Cross-examination is the time in which the questioning team clarifies the opposing team's case and exposes any weaknesses found in that case. There are four different types of cross-examination questions:

Direct (refers to a specific piece of information)

Open (allows the respondent to amplify ideas)

Probing (similar to open, but directed at a specific line of reasoning)

Leading (series of questions leading to an answer that refutes the whole case)


Direct: What is the source for your definition of affirmative action?

Open: Tell us why you favor affirmative action involved in awarding of scholarships.

Probing: Why does the affirmative team depend exclusively on the federal government report for support of their case?

Leading: Person A: "What was your supporting evidence?"

Person B: "We cited a study done by the federal government."

A: "The government paid for and conducted this research?"

B: "Yes."

A: "In what year was this done?"

B: "1995."

A: "This is the beginning of re-election time, is it not?"

B: "Yes."

A: "Did the report reflect what the popular opinion was at that time or did it reflect the party's opinion of affirmative action?"

B: "I'm not sure if it reflected either one in particular."

A: "Do you know what the popular opinion was at the time of the report?"

B: "No."

A: "Thank you. . . ."

In cross-examination, the two debaters should face the audience instead of each other. The tone of voice should always be polite and even, not loud and badgering. Respondents should not answer a question with a question.

First Negative Speech. The negative denies the affirmative case is valid and tries to raise doubts about the affirmative's case. The first negative speaker should try to:

1) State why the negative team believes the affirmative case is not correct.

2) Mention the affirmative arguments (even if it is to say the second negative speaker will discuss these in greater detail).

The negative need not prove that the opposite of the proposition is true, merely that the affirmative stance on the proposition is not true.

Second Affirmative Speech and Second Negative Speech. Both of these speeches patch holes in arguments made by the opposing team. Each speaker should state why his/her argument holds true, even after the opposing team's attack on it. Near the end of their speeches, speakers should try to summarize briefly the main points of their case.

Rebuttal Speeches. Rebuttal speeches are used to clarify major points in the case. To be included in the rebuttal speech, the speaker should outline the case and emphasize the team's stance on the major points. No new arguments for either case are allowed in the rebuttal speeches.


Preparing for a classroom debate involves planning, research, and practicing. The Learning Center in Draper 106 is a good place to ask questions about debate, as well as have a consultant help with preparing for a debate. The preparation can include help with organizing material, being cross-examined, giving an impromptu speech.

Prepared by Laurie Bradshaw, revised 2002

Works Consulted

Alex, Nola Kortner. "Debate and Communication Skills." ERIC Digest Sept. 1990: 1-2.

Bartanen, Michael D., and David A. Frank. Debating Values. Scottsdale, Arizona: Gorush Scarisbrick, 1991.

Ericson, Jon M. The Debater's Guide. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois, 1987.

McDonald, Verlaine. Personal Communication.

Robie, Harry. Personal Communication.


Score each speaker on a ten point scale (1 = needs improvement, 5 = adequate, 10 = excellent). After scoring each speaker, add the speaker points together on each team. The team with the highest speaker points wins the round. For each speaker, please comment on what was done effectively, as well as what needs improvement.

TEAM (Affirmative or Negative)

Speaker One Speaker Two Speaker Three

Clarity _____ _____ _____

Presentation _____ _____ _____

Information _____ _____ _____

Organization _____ _____ _____

Persuasion _____ _____ _____

COMMENTS Total Points____

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