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3 Ways to Explain Debating to Students

Updated: Feb 7, 2022

When we say ‘debating’ we are talking about a formal discussion between people who disagree over important ideas. Each team takes one side of the argument, and attempts to convince the audience they are correct. This does not necessarily reflect the speakers’ actual beliefs – it’s like a court of law, except it’s an idea being prosecuted and defended instead of a person.

All the relevant issues and the problems with them are examined calmly and logically, allowing people to then make informed decisions. In this way, debating can change things in a family, a school, a community, a country, or even the world.

When many people hear the word 'debating,' they may think of cut-throat, competitive arguments or what you hear in political debates. Rise & Shine Debating is nothing like that! We think of debating as the art of convincing through friendly, positive and logical argument.

The Level 1 Rise & Shine Student Handbook defines debating in 3 ways. We find that these are analogies that students can usually relate to.

1. Debating is putting an idea on trial

In a court of law, the prosecution tries to convince the jury that the accused is guilty of something, while the defense tries to convince the jury that they are innocent. Both try their hardest to convince the jury that their side is correct. An impartial judge makes sure everyone follows the rules. A debate is similar in that one team tries to show that the given idea is true, while the other tries to show that it is false. Each team’s job is to convince the audience.

2. Debating is a team sport

Debating is a team sport played with words. Each team tries to score goals (we call them points) by making arguments. They also try to defend against the other team’s points by giving reasons why they’re wrong (called rebuttal). The adjudicator is like a referee – that's the person who decides whether a point was scored or not.

3. Debating is a path to get where you want to go

When people or groups have different opinions about something, disagreement occurs. The more important something is, the more strongly they feel about it – but it’s hard to speak calmly and rationally about things we feel passionately about! Debating teaches you ways to convince others to take you and what you have to say seriously. It uses facts and logic to get others to see and understand your point of view.

Here is an example of debating skills in a real-life situation. Deb the Debater is asking her mum for money for the school Book Fair. Deb: Hey mum, can I have some money to buy something at the school Book Fair? Mum: You already have plenty of books and we can always borrow books for free at the library. Deb: That’s true mum, but I have some reasons that it would be great for me to buy something at the Fair. 1. The book fair is a fundraiser to get new books for the library so if I buy a book, it helps benefit the whole school.

2. I think it’s good for me to be more independent. Buying something at the book fair will help me to budget and make choices for myself. 3. The books I want are ones that I would like to keep and I think I’ll read again and again.

Mum: Those are good points. I’m happy to give you some money for the book fair if you help me do some gardening. You could point out to students that had Deb answered her mum’s question about why she needs money with the reasons below instead of those in the example above, she would not have been as effective as she was by providing logical and clearly thought-out reasons. “1. I like money. 2. I enjoy buying things by myself.

3. All the other kids are getting money.” You’ll notice that the second reason is similar to the second reason in the example. Just telling her mum that she likes buying things makes it sound like Deb just wants to do that as an indulgence. In the example though, Deb explains that buying things on her own helps her to be more independent, to budget and to learn to make better choices for herself – a much more convincing reason to give a parent! Debating isn’t just about giving reasons but offering logical reasons that are well-explained and backed up by evidence. And as Deb discovered, the skills of debating can benefit you in many areas of life.


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