Benefits of Participating in High School Debate

A high school debate

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In schools across the world, debate teams are valued for training students in public speaking, grace under pressure, and critical thinking. Student debaters have several advantages, whether they choose to join debate teams on campus or if they debate as members of a political club.

  • Debating provides practice in developing sound and logical arguments.
  • Debate gives students an opportunity to practice speaking in front of an audience and thinking on their feet.
  • Students participating in debate show initiative and leadership.
  • The research debaters perform expands their minds and increases their understanding of multiple sides of important issues.
  • Students hone their research skills in preparing for debates.

What Is a Debate?

Essentially, a debate is an argument with rules.

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

In a standard debate, two teams are presented with a resolution or topic, and each team has a set period of time to prepare an argument.

Students typically don't know their debate subjects ahead of time. However, participants are encouraged to read about current events and controversial issues to prepare for debates. This can give teams special strengths in certain topic areas. The goal is to come up with a good argument in a short amount of time.

At a debate, one team argues in favor (pro) and the other argues in opposition (con). In some debate formats, each team member speaks, and in others, the team selects one member to speak for the entire team.

A judge or a panel of judges assigns points based on the strength of the arguments and the professionalism of the teams. One team is usually declared the winner, and that team advances to a new round. A school team can compete in local, regional, and national tournaments.

A typical debate format includes:

  1. Teams are advised of the topic and take positions (pro and con).
  2. Teams discuss their topics and come up with statements expressing their position.
  3. Teams deliver their statements and offer the main points.
  4. Teams discuss the opposition's argument and come up with rebuttals.
  5. Teams deliver their rebuttals.
  6. Teams make their closing statements.

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

Interested students without a team at their school can look into starting a debate team or club. Many colleges also offer summer programs that teach debating skills.

Lessons Learned Through Debate

Knowing how to synthesize information and deliver it to an audience succinctly—even an audience of one—is a skill that benefits people throughout their lives. Debate skills can come in handy when interviewing for jobs, networking for career advancement, conducting meetings, and giving presentations. These "soft skills" can help in most careers because debate students learn the art of persuasion.

Outside of the working world, having good communication skills is useful in activities as ordinary as meeting new people or as special as making a wedding toast in front of a crowd, as debate helps people learn composure and confidence when speaking with others.