Middle school, high school and college students often participate in classroom debates or join debate teams to improve their thinking and public speaking skills. Debate techniques, such as presenting the opposition's worst-case scenario and concentrating on word economy, can help students present their arguments in clear, constructive ways and prepare effective rebuttals. Use these methods to strengthen your arguments and combat your opponent's position.
Use Real-World Examples
Begin with a powerful introduction that immediately gives your judges a clear idea of your position. Present a well-known example that supports your side of the issue. For example, if you're arguing that convicted terrorists should receive the death penalty, describe a scene from the World Trade Center bombings in 2001 or from the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013. Avoid overly graphic language and focus on the short- or long-term consequences. This debate technique jump-starts your side of the argument by introducing authentic, real-world examples that are difficult to challenge.
Draw Attention to Credible References
Use reliable data and statistics, professional opinions, credible research studies and scientific facts to back your arguments, and boldly cite those references when making your points. This debate strategy ensures that you're not asking judges to take your word for it -- you have solid, reliable evidence to back your views. Ensure that all of your research and data come from valid, reputable sources so that your opponents can't contest your findings. For example, if you're arguing that school uniforms improve academic performance, find university-conducted education studies, standardized test score summaries and evaluations by clinical psychologists to support your proposition. Avoid student, parent or teacher surveys that might show dress code preferences but don't prove there's any correlation to academic success.
Present Worst-Case Scenarios
Explain the worst-case scenario if your opponent's views and arguments were accepted. This debate method reveals your opponent's weaknesses and forces judges to critically assess potentially negative outcomes. For example, if your opponent is arguing that high school academic grades should be abolished, you might argue that college financial aid offices wouldn't have a way to factor in grades when awarding merit-based scholarships. Or, you might argue that students who only have a basic knowledge of a subject, such as algebra I, might still pass without being adequately prepared for algebra II.
Focus on Logical Fallacies
Discuss your opponent's logical fallacies. Look for cause-and-effect assumptions that don't make sense, references that don't have authoritative or professional credentials or attempts to make an entire argument valid when only part of the position is provable, suggests the University of Virginia. For example, just because drinking and driving are dangerous, that doesn't prove that the legal drinking age should be raised. Or, the fact that recycling reduces waste does not prove that consumers should be fined for choosing not to recycle.
Provide Final Impact Assessments
Remind judges that you won a particular argument -- also known as a "clash battle" -- by making a final impact assessment. This clearly explains how your arguments and evidence supersede, disqualify or override your opponent's supportive evidence. For example, if you're arguing that U.S. residents should be required to obtain specific immunizations, your final impact statement might explain that your statistics, evaluations and recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are more current than your opponent's findings.
- University of Virginia: The 9 Principles of Good Debating
- University of Vermont: Debate -- Important for Everyone; Alfred Snider and Edwin Lawrence
- National Association for Urban Debate Leagues: Debater's Guide
- Edutopia: Student Debate Deepens Thinking and Engagement
- Debateable!: Constructing a Speech
- U.S. News & World Report: How Colleges Determine Merit Scholarships
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