A few days ago I spent a day with a colleague of mine, Courtney Dougherty, at The Kings School listening to James Smith from Masters Academy. We were there to learn how to effective teach debating. What I learned most of all was that over the past 20 years debating in schools has evolved from a strict rigid concept of rules and rubric to a more fluid incarnation where the goal is to develop children’s skills in note taking and persuasiveness.

Questions from teachers: What is it that teachers want to know about debating?

Rebuttal – confidence – preparation – Team Lines – participation – The Burden of Truth

Judging debating has moved away from scoring:

-Matter – Method – Manner

“Method and Manner are the structures you use to drive Matter.

We need to evaluate the persuasiveness and logic of an argument. There is a movement away from formal rubrics in scoring a debate. Students who are more persuasive and have presented a logical, well represented argument, deserve to win over a team that had an illogical argument but ticked more boxes on a rubric!


1st Speaker

The role of the first speaker is to clarify the context of the debate. A fantastic way to do this is to have your students start a 15-20 second story that begins with the phrase – “We live in a world where…” By doing this, students easily contextualise their arguments. Team Lines are NOT in vogue and should be avoided.

Before students outline the case summary of their debate they need to define what the topic will include. What is the debate about? Do NOT use a direct DICTIONARY definition. The purpose of a definition is to establish what is Right, Relevant and Reasonable. Right in that it is correct, relevant in that it is appropriate to the topic and reasonable in that it is a fair point to debate.

Once the argument is defined students should move to outline their team’s case summary. They will quickly allocate topics to their fellow speakers and then move to speak about their own arguments. It is a trap to have the first speaker spend too much time allocating the topics to the speakers. The adjudicator does this anyway so the speaker doesn’t need to use too much speaking time on this.

The first speaker of the negative often begins their talk with a rebuttal. The create a better flowing debate the first negative speaker should contextualise and define their topic then enter their rebuttal.

Second Speaker

With 10-15% of their talk devoted to a rebuttal, the second speaker should spend most of their time on delivering their arguments.

Third Speaker

80% of this speaker’s role is to deliver a stinging rebuttal. They should identify avenues of attack and then articulate a detailed response to support their line of attack. Only 20% of this speakers job is to summaries the team’s argument.

Fourth or Supportive Speaker/Team Member

The fourth speaker is the listener. They create a Mind Map of the opposition’s argument. The team should then identify what points they want to rebut. Use a proforma or extend and colour code the mind map so that the speaker can easily see points of attack.

Tips, Tricks and Traps for Adjudicators

“There is an un-balance in education.” Children are not always going to phrase things perfectly. An adjudicator may deduct some marks for this however they should not raise this as an issue in feedback as it could be just a nervous error. An adjudicator should focus on more structural feedback.

Look out for assertions. An assertion is when a speaker makes a statement with providing any supportive evidence. You want to hear the students make claims and then show the proof that proves that claim. Listen for the word, ‘because’. The word because is often used to help students explain the claims made.

Simple concepts should be simply explained. Students often use complex, higher order, vocabulary incorrectly. Keep it simple and accurate.

Be aware of teams that draw too long of a bow. They can over catastrify an argument and the end results of the argument can seem very unlikely. Teams should focus on arguments that they can prove and adjudicators should be aware of this.

Straw-man rebuttal technique. In a rebuttal, a speaker can look at one feature of of the opposition’s argument and take that to the extreme making their view (which was a good point) seem like a negative view to hold. An example of this is that if someone was arguing for having zoos in modern society you could stuff the idea with ‘figurative’ straw and say the opposition wants you to believe that an animal should be captured in the wild, possibly have their family killed so they can be caught. They then support having that animal place in a small, restrictive cage that limits how the animal can move and can limited the air that they can breathe. They want animals who are dehydrated and possibly near death to be dropped of in zoo cages and enclosures which could be anywhere in the world. This is inhumane and not right!

Examples are more relatable when they are generic. Using personal experience opens rebuatt up to personal attacks and should be avoided. A much better strategy would be to provide logical hypothetical examples and practical scenarios that the audience can relate to.

About The Author

Primary & Executive Teacher

Founder #aussieED | Primary Teacher - 1:1 Educator | Google Certified Teacher | Speaker | Committed to turning Ed Theory into real classroom practice

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