About High School Debate Teams

Gain Beneficial Life Skills Through Debate

Win Big with These 20 Debating Tips!
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Debating competitions are not made up of stereotypical nerds in white starched shirts and ties. In schools across the world, and especially in urban schools, debate teams are becoming popular again for their use in training good public speakers, practicing grace under pressure, and creating critical thinkers.

Student debaters have plenty of advantages, whether they choose to join actual debating teams or they debate as a member of a political club. Some of these include: 

  • Debating provides practice in developing sound and logical arguments.
  • It gives students an opportunity to practice speaking in front of an audience and thinking on their feet.
  • The experience shows initiative and leadership on a college application.
  • The research debaters do expands their mind and increases their understanding of multiple sides of important issues.
  • Students hone their research skills in preparing for debates.

What Is a Debate?

Basically, a debate is an argument with rules.

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

In a typical 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. 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 argues in favor (pro) and the other argues 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 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 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. 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 can start a debate team or a club in their own schools. Many colleges offer summer programs that teach debating skills.

Life Skills

Knowing how to boil down information and deliver it to an audience succinctly—even an audience of one—are skills that benefit people throughout their lives, from interviewing for jobs and networking for career advancement to conducting meetings and giving presentations. These "soft skills" can help in sales careers or a high-pressure situation where a case must be made to a supervisor or team to take an action because debate students learn the art of persuasion.

Outside of the working world, having good communication skills can help people 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 comfort with speaking to others.