How to Debate

Recently my sister and I went to a debate camp. At first we thought it would be boring, but it turned out to be great because of the counselors and people there. We learned so much about debate, including the format of a debate, and how to win.

Format of a debate:

  1. team 1 case
  2. team 2 case
  3. cross examination
  4. team 1 rebuttals
  5. team 2 rebuttals
  6. cross x
  7. team 1 summary
  8. team 2 summary
  9. grand cross x
  10. team 1 final focus
  11. team 2 final focus

First, each team gives their case. You start with a small intro and move on to your points. Each argument you have is called a contention. In each contention you make a paragraph of information and you can put your sources at the top of the section in case your opponent asks for them. In each contention, you should state the impact, which is why it matters.

An impact has 6 parts to it. An acronym for them is STMPRR.

Scope: how widespread is it?

Timeframe: when will it happen?

Magnitude: how bad/good is it?

Probability: how likely it will happen

Reversibility: how easy it is to reverse effects

Root Cause: your impact causes the opponent's impact, therefore yours is more important


After each team gives their case, it is time for cross examination. During cross examination(cross x for short) each team asks the other questions about their case. They do this for many reasons: to clarify information, to get sources and see if they are reliable, to get exact numbers for information, etc. Unless one team runs out of questions, both sides go back and forth asking questions one at a time. If your opponent tries to ask a second question in a row, you can say, "It is my turn to ask questions now," if you have an important question. One should try to be short and concise in answering, but it is good to give a solid, assuring answer.

Then, it is time for each team's rebuttals. In this time, teams will state why the other's argument is wrong. Try to go through each of their contentions, pointing out problems and holes in their reasoning.

After rebuttals, there is another cross examination.

Following this is the summary. In the summary, one restates their main points more concisely. Then they move on to say why the other team's rebuttals are wrong. A team should try to say as much as possible in their summary.

Now is grand cross x. This is the last cross examination in the debate. Here, you ask about anything from your opponents entire argument, because in the other cross x's you want to focus more on their most recent speech. Also, during this time you can ask about things you forgot to ask before.

Lastly, final focus. In this time you convince the judges that you won. You can state some flaws in your opponents arguments and throw some facts in there. You don't want to spend most of your time destroying your opponents argument, though. And this is why you want to say as much as you can in your summary.


All throughout the debate, both teams do something called, "flowing". Flowing is when you take notes of your opponents case, rebuttals, summary, and final focus. You can record new information given in cross x and write down what you are going to say for your rebuttal, summary, and final focus. One should be concise, yet include numbers and details in their notes. A typical flowing paper consists of 7 columns. The columns from left to right: your case, their rebuttal against your case, your summary, their summary, your rebuttal, and their case. I put the cases in the correct places, but most of the time I put notes in the wrong columns. But this is ok, just as long as you take good notes and can make sense of things on your paper. While listening to the opponent, it is very important to pay attention to details. Small things that don't seem very significant may actually help you a lot in debunking your opponent's argument. In addition, while you are researching, it always helps to learn a little extra about the topic you are going to debate. This could help you later on. It is good to know your opponents' side of the argument, so you can prepare responses and rebuttals against them. With that information you can also make things called "blocks". These are prewritten rebuttals against possible arguments the opponent may use. You can also prepare responses for your opponent's rebuttals, to state why their rebuttal is wrong.

When It is your turn to speak, make sure to stand in a strong looking position. Have your legs over your shoulders and keep your feet planted. If you are moving your legs around while you are debating, you will look weak. In addition, make sure you have your flowing paper and case papers with you while you are speaking. It is helpful to look back at them. Hold these firmly with your hands on both sides of the paper. Talk in a loud, clear, articulate voice. Don't talk quietly without feeling. Put emphasis on important points and facts. Believe that you will win and that your opponent doesn't know what they're talking about.