This post was written by our excellent former intern Jianxiong Zhang, who having previously been one of our best high school debaters and coaching the younger students at his own school, spent a year working with us, and is now studying at Carleton College. Before he left us we asked him to write up some advice for other students hoping to help their peers learn and improve.
You have done lots of Debates and have probably become one of the most experienced debaters in your school. When your debate team recruited new members, you are their first teacher. You also want your school’s debate team to remain strong, so it’s important to make novices become strong debaters. Here is my 8-step advice to help you train your peers.
The best way to introduce the rules of debate is to have a real debate.
But they don’t know anything and will make lots of mistakes!
It’s totally fine to make mistakes for the first debate. Remember playing chess for the first time? The rules were so complicated that you couldn’t understand everything. But it soon becomes clear once you have played it. It’s the same for debate. You don’t really understand the rules unless you have experienced it. So just tell them the timetable and let them debate. It’s also a good way to get them interested. Preparing for debate is more stressful and less fun than debating itself, so why not go into the most interesting part first.
2. Explain the structure
You have seen lots of mistakes in their first debate, then it’s the time to correct them. Explain the goals of Constructive Speech, Rebuttal, Summary, Final Focus, and don’t forget the Crossfire. Give out good examples from previous tournaments and teach them how to do each speech effectively.
3. Introduce basic research tools
But you say: The research packet is on the website, so why research alone?
It is true that we compile research packets for each topic and those are very good articles containing valuable information. But research packets are open to everyone, and it means your opponents will be familiar with–and prepared to attack–the information therein. Besides, we can’t and don’t address every argument which might be raised in a real debate, so the packet alone may not be enough. All in all, research is important!
What’s most important is how to use search engines. Quotes help you search the exact phrase, and minus signs help you eliminate things you do not want. These search operators are useful, and some engines also have other tools. Learn how to use different operators to get the results you want.
You can also introduce databases, think tanks, and news agencies to novices. Mention what features each of them has, and whether they are biased in some way.
You might want to teach your peers how to get the right information. A 30-page academic paper seems overwhelming to an English learner, but you can get a sense of the main idea after you’ve read the abstract or introduction which usually is one-page long.
4. Discuss the topic
When the topic is released, summon your debaters and have a discussion. Share background knowledge about the topic, brainstorm some possible arguments and responses. This is the time to get as many ideas as possible, so do not hesitate to discuss arguments even if you think they might be weak. Maybe others have ways to make them stronger. If it’s possible, ask non-debaters about their opinions on the topic because people with different background will have diverse ideas about a topic, and some of them will eventually become strong arguments in debate.
5. Research the topic
After the topic discussion, each debater has learned what the topic is about and got their own approach to the topic. Let your debaters use the tools you taught before to get evidence to support their arguments. It’s also a good idea to ask them share evidence and talk about how they want to incorporate it in their cases. The purpose is for them to learn what good evidence is and how to use evidence in debate.
6. Judge practice rounds
In debate, you are not persuading your opponents but your judges, so it is important to know what judges care about. The best way to think like a judge is to become a judge. I didn’t know that some of my strategies were not as effective