Resource 4: Rules and procedures for debating
Background information / subject knowledge for teacher
A debate is a contest, or, perhaps, like a game, where two or more speakers present their arguments intent on persuading one another ...
By preparing for and participating in debates, pupils learn to find and use information to support their arguments. They also learn how to present their ideas clearly and persuasively.
Through debating, they learn to understand views that are different from their own because, when debating, they may have to argue a case that they don’t fully agree with, and they have to become very familiar with the view of the opposing team.
Good debaters are very well prepared. The debate you conduct in your class may be an informal one, but could build towards a situation where your pupils debate seriously in competitions.
Before constructing a speech, debaters collect as much information on the topic as possible, from libraries, newspapers, magazines and discussion with people.
They think of all the points in support of the motion, and against the motion. In other words, they become familiar with the opposition’s case as well as their own. They prepare themselves for all possible questions that might be asked by the opposition, and all possible challenges they might offer.
Good debaters structure their arguments very persuasively. They listen to other people debating, so that they learn the art and the skill of debating. They join debating societies, and debate as often as possible.
There are two teams, each consisting of two or three speakers. One team (the affirmative) supports the motion, and the other (the negative) opposes the motion.
There is a chairperson, who controls the proceedings.
The speeches and speaking time are divided equally between the two teams.
Each speaker makes a speech they have prepared to argue their case. The sides speak in turn, starting with the proposer of the motion (affirmative, negative, affirmative, negative). Each speaker has a specified amount of time to speak (e.g. three minutes or five minutes).
Then the debate can be opened to the floor, with speakers standing up to offer points supporting or opposing the motion. Each speaker from the floor is allowed a specified amount of time (e.g. one minute or three minutes).
Each team may then speak in ‘rebuttal’, after a short period has been allowed for the teams to consult. This means that they have a chance to argue against points raised by the opposition. Each team may have one rebuttal speech each, or more. The first rebuttal speech is made by the negative side and the final rebuttal speech is made by the affirmative.
- The team supporting the motion must not shift its point of view. The same goes for the opposition, who must oppose the motion completely (whatever their private opinions may be).
- If a speaker makes a statement, they must be able to provide evidence or reasons to support the statement.
- Facts presented in a debate must be accurate.
- Speakers may not bring up new points in a rebuttal speech.
Points of order and points of information
Members of the house (anyone involved in the debate) may interrupt a speaker by raising their hands and indicating that they have a ‘point of order’. This means that they wish to point out that one of the rules of debate is being broken (e.g. the speaker is speaking overtime, or does not have evidence to support his or her point).
Members may also raise their hands with a ‘point of information’ (a question or some information they have to offer). The speaker may choose to allow the member to speak, but does not have to.
The winning team in a debate is usually decided on the basis of the quality of the debating, by a judge, or judges.
However, it may also be decided by a vote.
Adapted from:(Accessed 2008)