How to Debate in School

Gabrielle Applebury
student speaking in debate club

Participating in debates can teach you how to research a topic, think critically, and speak with conviction. These are great skills to learn while you're still in school.

Types of Debates

While in school you may be asked to join different types of debates. Chances are this will happen on more than one occasion. The setting, audience, and topic will influence how you choose to format your argument and present your case.

Classroom Debates

Classroom debates will mainly take place in front of your peers. In this sense, it's important to consider how your peers will respond to your argument during the debate. Win the majority of them over with your point of view by:

  • Using informal language
  • Being well prepared
  • Exuding confidence even if you feel nervous
  • Connecting with them during your core arguments or rebuttals
  • Using relatable examples

Debate Team

The debate team is likely to be a bit more intense and challenging in comparison to classroom debates. If you are on the debate team, keep in mind:

  • Your opponent may go for the jugular, so make sure you are overly prepared for more targeted statements or attacks.
  • You will probably have the help and support of the members who agree with your perspective, so be sure to use them as resources.
  • Your opponent may use tactics to throw you off course, so stick to your core argument and don't allow them to distract you.
  • Use your time wisely and make sure to get your main points across. You may want to limit your core points to a maximum of three with supporting arguments.

Debates During a Club Meeting or Student Council

Club meetings or student council may allow for a more casual debate setting. These debates may not take place behind a podium, but you still may want to get your point across clearly. To prepare for a debate during a club meeting or student council be sure to:

  • Focus on the specific topic and be mindful of straying from your point.
  • There may not be a mediator, so make sure you are respectful of others' opinions throughout your discussion.
  • If you are being steam rolled by louder or more assertive individuals, you may need to push yourself outside of your comfort zone and make sure your point is heard. You can say, "I understand what you're saying, but my perspective is a little different."
  • Be sure to clarify your opponent's point before making your case. That way they'll feel heard, and you will have a more solid rebuttal.

Selecting the Right Debate Topic

The ideal debate topic is something you feel passionate about. That way, it is easier for you to speak about it and do so with confidence. You will also have a great understanding of the subject matter, or genuinely enjoy researching it. To find the right debate topic for you:

  • Ask yourself which subjects interest you the most and why.
  • Think about what you love talking about, researching, or thinking about.
  • Consider different angles and perspectives once you've narrowed down your subject matter.
  • If you've been assigned a topic that you aren't particularly fond of, think about how you can relate it to something you do enjoy.
  • Research a few different perspectives on the subject matter and explore what interests you the most about the topic.
  • Think about the pros and cons to selecting your topic, as well as what your opponent's rebuttals might be like.

Researching Your Argument

Researching your argument can help you fully grasp the concepts you are trying to convey to your audience or mediator. To delve into your topic:

  • Google search recent research articles or reputable journals that cover your subject matter.
  • Interview people who are relevant to your case and take notes.
  • Explore your topic from different perspectives and ask peers, teachers, and other adults what their take on the subject is.
  • Borrow, check out, or purchase books that can help you further your arguments or better understand your opponent's.
Student researching at the library

Preparing to Counter Your Opponent's Argument

To thoroughly negate what your opponent is arguing, you will have to dive into their perspective, core arguments, and rebuttals. Once you have a grasp on what they are likely to say and counter your arguments with, you can better prepare your defensive stance. Come up with several rebuttals that have strong evidence to back them up. If you are having a hard time knowing where to start, explore the opposite of your opponent's arguments and come up with a few facts that support this position. Do a few of these and pick the strongest ones as your core rebuttal arguments.

Focusing Your Argument

Strong arguments are succinct, are easy for the audience to digest, and have several relatable examples. Create a list of your supporting facts and isolate a few of the strongest ones to be your core arguments. Use these few core arguments to organize supporting details, facts, and examples that boost them up.

Doing Well During Your Debate

Your debate style will vary depending on what type of setting you are participating in. Debating may feel challenging at first, but with a lot of practice and proper preparation, you have a good chance of doing so with poise, confidence, and conviction.

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How to Debate in School