For additional debate teaching resources, please visit the International Debate Education Association.
Karl Popper Debate
The Karl-Popper format focuses on relevant and often deeply divisive propositions, emphasizing the development of critical thinking skills and tolerance for differing viewpoints. Debaters work together in teams of three and must research both sides of each issue. Each team is given the opportunity to offer arguments and direct questions to the opposing team. Judges then offer constructive feedback, commenting on logical flaws, insufficient evidence or arguments that debaters may have overlooked.
This format was developed for use in secondary school programs and competitions. It is popular in Central and Eastern Europe and in Russia. In Africa it is becoming increasingly popular in Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Liberia and Nigeria. It is the format employed at the annual IDEA Youth Forum – a two week debate event for secondary school students from all over the world.
The distinguishing features of the format are: cross-examination, when four of the six debaters ask their opponents questions; and preparation time, when debaters can prepare before their speeches. This format emphasizes team work and is a good format for beginner debaters, because each speaker in this debate speaks once only and members of the team need to communicate with each other during the designated preparation time.
Many formats of debate are described as ‘parliamentary’. This is really a catch-all term which simply means that they are loosely modeled on the practices of the British parliamentary system and other parliaments around the world that adopted those practices. In practice it means that the motion for debate is treated in much the same way as a legislative Bill placed before the UK House of Commons. The motion always stands in the name of the Government (also called ‘the Proposition’) and it is the job of the Opposition to demonstrate that the motion is either impractical or immoral.
The distinguishing factor of parliamentary formats, of which there are many, is the use of Points of Information (PoI). These points allow debaters to interrupts a speaker to ask a question or offer information which favors their side of the debate. Both Proposition and Opposition speakers can offer PoIs, but only to the other side. It is not compulsory to accept a PoI, but in competitive debate speakers are penalized if they fail to take any. Usually the first and last sections of a speech are ‘protected time’ during which PoIs may not be offered.
In many parliamentary formats the terminology of the House of Commons has also been adopted with the first proposition speaker being referred to as the Prime Minister and the first opposition speaker being known as the Leader of the Opposition. The chair or presiding adjudicator is usually referred to as Mister or Madam Speaker and all remarks are addressed to them not the other debaters.
British Parliamentary (BP)
This is the name of the format used for the World Universities Debating Championship and has, as a result, become the default format for many university societies, especially in the English speaking world. It is probably the most commonly used format in the World. In much the same way as many university societies debate in their native language as well as English, so they tend to use a regional or local format and also BP.
Debates comprise eight speakers: four speaking in favor of a motion and four against. Each side is made up of two teams of two individuals. They debate a motion (the idea to be discussed) which is usually framed with the wording This House Believes… or This House Would…. For example if the motion is This House Would Support Assisted Suicide, it is the role of the Proposition (or ‘Government’) speakers to explain why assisted suicide is a good idea and the opposition should demonstrate that it is not. As a form of parliamentary debate, in BP the government should propose a course of action and support it with philosophical, practical and consequential arguments. The burden of proof is on the government, but the opposition must also demonstrate the strength of their arguments.
Typically in BP, a motion is announced 15 minutes before the debate starts. Speeches are seven minutes in length, with the first and last minute protected (Points of Information cannot be offered in ‘protected’ time). The first proposition speaker is required to present a definition of the motion that places an idea in a real-world setting. Once a motion has been defined, all speakers are required to address the definition, not some other variant that might be easier for them.
Legislative Debate is based upon the notion of having representative student leaders consider some of the problems that actually confront lawmakers. In doing so, Legislative Debate provides unparalleled insight into the way legislation is drafted and establishes leadership and deliberation skills crucial to effective participation in democratic processes. Legislative Debate also offers a vehicle for teaching parliamentary procedure and helps students internalize the value of decision-making processes that draw on consensus building and majority rule.
In Lincoln-Douglas Debate, the motion is a statement, phrased as a sentence that focuses on an issue of philosophical or political concern and which will be analyzed from a moral perspective. Lincoln-Douglas Debate places primacy on the ability of debaters to make original, coherent and philosophically persuasive arguments on issues of ethics. Debaters should present a persuasive moral position that they can defend from criticism and use to argue against an opposing case, without falling into self-contradiction or denying the complexity of the issues at stake. Students should familiarize themselves with the work of major ethical philosophers and should inform their cases with real-world examples and analysis.
Middle School Debate
Fostering debate and speech activities on the middle school level is consistent with IDEA’s commitment to empower young people as participants of the democratic processes. Middle school students can benefit uniquely from exposure to speech and debate. They are at an age, psychologically and socially, where they can make considerable strides in acquiring research competence, media and argument literacy, reading comprehension, evidence evaluation, and public speaking and civic skills. Finally, through cultivating middle school speech and debate activities, not only are young people and teachers empowered, but an appreciation of speech and debate is instilled in students who may well pursue it to higher levels.
Mock Trial is an exercise in argumentation and legal procedure and the only educational trial format based on the International Criminal Court established by the Treaty of Rome. The IDEA Mock Trial hones both legal reasoning and courtroom technique, while it familiarizes participants with a vital arena of public debate. Teams representing the prosecution and defense take on the roles of all attorneys and witnesses. A judge, or judging panel, oversees the round, provides educational criticism and makes a decision based on each team’s performance. Each case argued is an original scenario that the participants must master. Facts are presented through a variety of legal documents and through the testimony of witnesses. Although the underlying facts are the same, each round unfolds differently according to the actions, decisions and interactions of the participants. Teams contest the facts of the case through direct examination, cross-examination, re-direct and re-cross of both prosecution and defense witnesses.
Cross-Examination (Policy) Debate
Like other forms of debate, Cross-Examination Debate focuses on the core elements of a controversial issue. Cross-Examination Debate develops important skills, such as critical thinking, listening, argument construction, research, note-taking and advocacy skills. Cross-Examination Debate is distinct from other formats (with the exception of two team Parliamentary Debate) in is use of a two person team, along with an emphasis on cross-examination between constructive speeches. While specific practices vary, Cross Examination Debate typically rewards intensive use of evidence and is more focused on content than delivery.
Public Forum Debate
Public Forum Debate offers students a unique opportunity to develop on-their-feet critical thinking skills by situating them in contexts not unlike US political talk shows. Public Forum debaters must anticipate numerous contingencies in planning their cases and must learn to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances as discussions progress. Public Forum’s open-ended cross-examination format encourages the development of unique rhetorical strategies. Public Forum debates should be transparent to lay audiences, while providing students with real-world public speaking skills, through the discussion of contentious ideas.
IDEA believes that debate should not be limited to the setting of competitive debate tournaments in which only students take part, but instead feels that debate should operate within a broader context of public participation and should embrace different segments of a community. IDEA strongly encourages its members to promote and support public access to debate through the organization of public debates and by inviting the public to debate competitions.