When working with beginners, keep it as simple as possible
and don't impose a great many rules.
Will they be debating as individuals or in teams?
Essentially the basics are that each side is presented with the
thesis that they are to prove or disprove. The students
should know in advance whether they are arguing for or
against a proposition. Example: Resolved: The two party
system is the best political system for the United States of America
or something like that. (I would strongly recommend that the
proposition not be strongly partisan.)
Or each team could be arguing in
defense of a particular political position: i.e. One side
takes Obama's tax plan; One side takes McCain's tax plan
and tries to make the best possible case for their assigned plan.
(Even getting this partisan, however, might evoke some
criticism from outside.)
If you are going with format in which one side attempts to
prove and the other side attempts to disprove, it would go
The sides flip a coin to see who goes first.
The speakers are introduced and they greet each other and exchange
hand shakes. The first speaker on each side will thank the
moderator and anybody else who should be thanked for
hosting the debate.
1. First pro speaker - makes his/her best case for the resolution. 5 minutes
2. First con speaker - makes his/her best case to rebut the points of the
first speaker and does so as much as possible with
good information why the proposition is false. 5 min
3. Second pro speaker - makes second argument rebutting speaker - adding
information as necessary.
4. Second con speaker - makes second argument rebutting speaker 3 -
adding information as necessary.
And so forth. (Of course if there is only one speaker on each side, the pro and con will speak more than once.) Time limits for each speaker should be strictly enforced. Usually two or three arguments per side is sufficient for a first debate.
Rules should be firmly established with points deducted for any infractions:
1. It's okay to make up stuff but if you get caught, the other side gets a point.
2. The debaters can address the moderator or their opponent, but they are not allowed to use any insulting language or ad hominem no matter how mild. It is permissable to say something like "To say that such and such is so is absurd because. . . . " and then present material to show why it is."
It is important to stress to the kids that they are not trying to beat each other but they are attempting to defend or defeat an opinion or idea. In order to do that they must come up with a superior opinion or idea. It teaches them to learn how to articulate a point of view without insulting the other person and there is no better way to do that than to teach them how to argue both sides of the question.
Great training though and if you make it fun, they might become interested in exploring more formal debate which of course is far more involved and complicated with a whole lot more technique and terminology to learn.
Anyhow for what its worth, this is pretty much the basics of how I have started out young-uns. It allows a lot of flexibility to design your own format for what you want to do. Just keep it simple and keep it fun.
Foxfyre (old debate coach & judge)