Project details

EC Project Number: 2021-1-IT02-KA210-ADU-000034903
Project title: DEBATECH
Coordinator Organisation Legal Name: APS Brainery Academy

“Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Education and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA). Neither the European Union nor EACEA can be held responsible for them.”; “The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein”

“The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein”

“Debate is about change. We are constantly engaged in a struggle to better our lives, our community, our country, our world, and our future. We should never be satisfied with the status quo—surely something in our lives needs improving”
Alfred C. Snider, The Code of the Debater, 2008
“Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace… If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation…”
Martin Luther King, Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, 1964

Wy debating in a foregin language?

Debating helps students develop a wide range of skills and competences, both key competences and transversal or “soft” skills, also named “21st century skills”, such as the following (Cinganotto, 2019):

  • Information literacy: ability to support one’s own position finding documents, resources, facts and figures, identifying fake news or fake information.
  • Speaking skills and oral interaction: debating in a foreign language can improve fluency, pronunciation, and vocabulary: the teacher or coach will provide feedback on pronunciation, choice of words, syntactic structure and relevancy of the information, logic building and content coherence.
  • Writing skills: before the performance debaters usually make notes or bullet points on what they are planning to say, focusing on coherence, consistency and persuasion. They can write argumentative texts or sum up their arguments in bullet points, or through visual organisers such as mind maps, graphs, etc.
  • Listening skills (attentive listening): training often takes place through video clips of debate sessions, speeches given by experts (for example Ted Talks); the debaters need to listen attentively to the opposing team’s speech, as the rebuttal phase builds on the other team’s position.
  • Team work (cooperative learning; peer education): the two teams (Proposition and Opposition) need to work together to look for resources, facts and figures and agree on the different arguments to mention during the speeches.
  • Reading skills: debaters will have to read sources and documents practising different reading modalities such as skimming and scanning, according to their specific needs.
  • Controlling emotions and conflicts: the debaters must control themselves, avoiding rage, anger, aggressive or disruptive tone of voice.

In a competitive debate there are generally two or more teams, arguing and defending their own positions through evidence, facts and figures.

Proposition/Opposition teams are usually appointed later on. At the beginning the teacher or the jury will launch the “motion” or “claim”, which is the statement to be discussed during the debate and the team members will have to look for information, resources on the Internet in order to build up their own debating strategy. This phase is often called “research laboratory”, frequently inspired by inquiry- based learning6 principles and can take place individually or in groups, in class or at home in a flipped learning perspective.

It is wise to assign the Proposition/Opposition teams after the research laboratory, so that both the teams can get a wide and deep knowledge of the topic in order to be ready for arguments and counterarguments. In fact, a very important dimension of debate is rebuttal, which builds on the opposing argument and implies active listening in order to highlight weaknesses and critical aspects.

These are generally the main roles provided in a competitive debate:

    • Proposition team/Opposition team: the debaters O Jury: will assess the performance of each debater and will establish the winning team according to a specific rubric
    • Timekeeper: will keep the time, generally ringing a bell at the end of each turn
    • Coach: will train the teams, helping them construct their debate strategy
    • Chairman/woman: will give the floor to the different debaters starting from the first speaker of the Proposition team.

Each turn lasts 8 minutes according to the original WSD format, but the jury or the board may agree on different timings.

The last turn of speech for both the teams is the “final arringa” which is aimed at summing up the whole team strategy, in opposition to the other team: no new arguments are allowed in the “final arringa”.

The starting point of a competitive debate is the motion or claim, which must be debatable both in favour and against. For example, the motion “The sun rises in the east” is not adequate. A good example is: “This House believes that the death penalty should be abolished everywhere in the world”. “This House Believes That” (often abbreviated as THBT) refers to a hypothetical Parliamentary session.

The first step is to highlight key vocabulary from the motion and provide definitions which can lead to an interpretation in favour or against it. The Proposition team will defend the position in favour of the motion (THBT), while the Opposition team will criticise the position providing a counterplan, that is an alternative interpretation or possible other solutions to the problem mentioned in the motion.

While planning the arguments to mention it is important to consider the following dimensions: Content, Organisation, Delivery of the speech.

As far as Content and Organisation of an argument to discuss during a speech, Snider identified the following acronym: AREL

During the performance, a debater from the opposing team can pose a “Point of Information” (PoI), which is a question about a specific statement from the ongoing speech, with the aim to get the debater in trouble. He/she can refuse or accept the question and provide an answer, before going on with his/her speech. In the picture below the typical setting of a WSD session.

A: Argument

R: Reason E: Evidence L: Link

Here is an example, adapted from Baker, 2013:

Motion: THBT cannabis should be legalised

Argument: Cannabis is more dangerous than tobacco or alcohol.

Reason(s): Research shows that tobacco and alcohol are more dangerous and addictive than cannabis.

Evidence: For example Dr Blakemore from Oxford University declared: “Unlike for nicotine, alcohol and hard drugs, there is no clearly defined withdrawal syndrome, the hallmark of true addiction, when (marijuana) use is stopped” (The Times, 6 August, 2001).

Link: We can then argue that more dangerous substances like tobacco are legal, while cannabis is not. Therefore, we strongly believe it should be legalised.

As far as the Delivery of the speech is concerned, the following elements should be considered by the speaker:

A: Audibility: delivering the speech through a proper tone and volume of voice

E: Engagement: engaging the audience in the conversation, eliciting empathy and sympathy

C: Conviction: showing true concern for the issue

A: Authority: showing competence and mastery of the topic

L: Likability: being gentle, smiley and polite.

Arguments are identified, constructed and expanded

according to the “Research Pyramid” (Baker, 2013):

    • Daily: daily curiosity leading to asking for information, investigating causes and consequences, reading or listening to the news regularly, developing a critical approach to facts, events and to the world in general.
    • Synthesis: we summarise knowledge and bits of content previously acquired formally or informally, according to the aim of the motion.

Argumentation drills

In order to develop argumentative skills, some exercises and drills may be helpful, such as the following adapted from English Speaking Union (ESU) website and from Baker, 2013:

  • The “Why” game
    A motion is launched by the teacher, such as:“Cannabis should be legalised”.
    The class will ask “Why?” and each student will answer in turn providing reasons for the different arguments mentioned.
  • If I ruled the world
    In turn, each student will list the things he/she would like to do if he/she could rule the world, within certain time limits.
  • Three Things Wrong
    This drill is useful to practise rebuttal. The coach/teacher provides a one-minute speech and the students in turn will have a 15-20 second speech highlighting three wrong elements of the teacher’s speech: Firstly… Secondly… Thirdly…
  • Human: the best research resource is represented by human beings: interviewing and listening to people’s stories, episodes, incidents may help construct valid and proven arguments
  • Defending the indefensible
    Students are given a motion which is impossible to defend.Example: “No one should work”.Defence: “Without working you cannot live a decent live”.
  • A moral dilemma
    Students are standing in two lines (Proposition/Opposition).They are given a moral dilemma, for example: “You find a bag full of money on a bench”. In turns, the Proposition team will have to provide arguments to keep the money, while the Opposition team will show that it is better to report the event to the police and take the bag there.


The word ‘oracywas coined by Andrew Wilkinson in 1965, with the aim to give speaking and listening the same importance as written forms of literacy and numeracy. According to Wilkinson, oracy is “the ability to use the oral skills of speaking and listening”. Vass and Littleton argue that through speech we can learn to reason and get individual awareness.

Building on the importance of oracy, the University of Cambridge in cooperation with “School 21” in London, defined the Oracy Skills Framework, identifying four domains of skill in using spoken language: physical, linguistic, cognitive and social and emotional.

As shown in the picture, the four dimensions are detailed as follows:

  • Physical: voice and body language are the ways we discuss, debate, express our ideas and opinions, using verbal and non-verbal communication.
  • Linguistic: we use vocabulary, language and rhetorical techniques to interact with our interlocutors and to persuade the jury or the audience.
  • Cognitive: content, structure, clarifying and summarising, reasoning are the cognitive skills we activate to choose the content, organise the parts of the speech, summarising main points, etc.
  • Social and emotional: working with others, listening and responding, confidence in speaking, audience awareness; the socioemotional sphere will inevitably impact any aspect of interaction and communication.

Embedding oracy instruction in schools, for example promoting and organising regular debates, can strengthen a pedagogy that may help students not only achieve higher standards across the curriculum and better learning outcomes but also freely express their ideas, empowering them throughout their lives.

The Oracy Skills Framework distinguishes different kinds of talk to be encouraged in order to develop oracy:


Tips for expressing opinions

How should students go about expressing their opinions?

Sandford (2016) suggests the following tips:

  • Speak up
  • Show conviction and morality
  • Use emotions O Shock tactics
  • Use imagery to paint a picture in people’s minds
  • Unqualified generalisations
  • Logical deduction
  • Logical deduction without certain transferability
  • The argument of tradition and inevitability
  • Countering tradition
  • Give me proof
  • Give me disproof
  • Question tags seeking agreement
  • Challenging facts
  • Challenging and discrediting your opponent
  • Introducing irrelevant or extreme examples
  • Counter by highlighting irrelevance
  • Using modal verbs
  • Using the example of legalising cannabis
"There is always a multitude of reasons, both in favour of doing a thing and against doing it. The art of debate lies in presenting them”
Mark Rutherford


Competitive debate: SPEAKERS’ ORDER

Speakers deliver 3-minute speeches in strict order. NO extra time allowed.
13 minpro 1First argumentPresent team, main thesis, define topic, first argument, one example
23 mincon 1First argumentPresent team, main thesis, define topic, first argument, one example
33 minpro 2Second argumentResponse to Con speaker, declare second argument and support it with facts, statistics, quotes
43 mincon 2Second argumentResponse to Pro speaker, declare second argument and support it with facts, statistics, quotes
53 minpro 3Third argumentResponse to Con speaker, declare third argument and support it with facts, statistics, quotes
63 mincon 3Third argumentResponse to Pro speaker, declare third argument and support it with facts, statistics, quotes
71,5 minCON 4 or CON 1 or 2Rebuttal To other groupcounter arguments (weak points of adversaries) Summing up group thesis, last appeal
81,5 minPRO 4 Or PRO 1 or 2Rebuttal to other groupcounter arguments (weak points of adversaries) Summing up group thesis, last appeal
DEBATE teams: 18 minutes (9 each team)2min GROUP CONSULTATIONRebuttal: tot 3 minDEBATE TIME: 23 min (6/8
JURY proclamation of winner