How does a debate work?

In every debate round there is a proposition team and an opposition team. The proposition team proposes the motion, meaning they argue in favor of the motion. The opposition team opposes the motion, meaning that they argue against the motions. 

Each team can be composed of up to five members, but only three members debate at a time. So, every team has a first speaker, a second speaker, and a third speaker. Either the first or second speaker of each team can give the reply speech (you can remember it as the fourth speech). Each speech consists of arguments, rebuttals, evidence, and analysis or a combination of each. 

There are two ways to prove that a proposition is true (has not been proved either irrelevant or untrue by the opposition):
1. You can look at every known instance and show that in each case the proposition holds true. 
2. You can analyze the proposition and show that it is supported by other known principles. 

In debating it is usually impossible to use the first type of reasoning, because we debate generalizations with millions if not billions of known instances. So, we have to use the second type of reasoning. 

Every debater speaks in a predetermined order. There are a total of eight speeches in a debate. The first six speeches are 8 minutes long, and are carried out by the first, second, and third speakers of each team (alternating from proposition to opposition after each one). The last two speeches, which are 4-minutes long, can be given by either the first or the second speaker of either team (but the opposition speaks first, so that the proposition can start and end the debate). The order of speeches is as follows: 

8-minute speeches: 

Prop 1 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Opp 1

Prop 2 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Opp 2

Prop 3 ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Opp 3 

4-minute speeches: 

Opp Reply ------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Prop Reply


What are motions, and how should I approach them?

Motion: a statement that is given to you before a debate that you have to argue in favor or against depending on your teams’ side. 

Motions usually begin with the phrase "This House Believes That (THBT)". However, there are some variations: "THSupports", "THRegrets", "THWould". The difference will be explained later on.

To understand a motion, make sure to analyze both the wording and the structure of the motion. Identify the variables at hand and their relationship and develop a three-part argument that supports your own interpretation of the motion. 

Motion Categories

There are two broad categories of motions. However, many motions fall within both.


These motions ask the teams to analyze the benefits or detriments of a given concept or variable against their own criteria.

Ex. THBT the Arab Spring has dome more harm than good. 


Policy motions ask debaters to create an actual policy or framework that will improve or solve a certain economic, political, or social situation given in the motion to be debated. For the following motion both sides would want to reach gender equality, so the debate is about which side’s policy, or mechanism to achieve that goal, is better.

Ex: This house would create quotas for women in high public offices.


The Wording of the Motions

“This House” refers to a world-wide governing body that governs all or most of the countries worldwide, or what each country’s government or people would or should do. 

What goes after “This House” is what matters the most. Different verbs (believes, would, should, regrets, supports) will dictate what the motion is asking you to do, and in what way you should approach it. You should know how the following verbs change the meaning of the motion: 

This House Believes That

This is the simplest kind of motion. It means that you need to argue in favor (if you are proposition) or against (if you are opposition).

Ex: THBT it is immoral for individuals who have met their basic needs to not donate any excess wealth to social programs.  

You would need to argue why what you’re saying is correct or incorrect; why it is immoral or it is not immoral. 

This House Would 

This motion is asking you to go one step further than you would with a believes motion. In a “believes” motion, you only argue why or why not something is correct. In a “would” motion, you do have to argue why something is right or wrong, but you also have to do something yourself. “Would” calls for ACTION apart from belief. 

For this type of motions the teams need to develop a mechanism: a plan that explains in detail how you would do what the motion is saying you would do. 

Ex. THW legalize prostitution. 

Not only should you argue why legalizing prostitution is a good idea, but state how you would do it. 

Note: if a motion is written as “This House Believes That … should ... ” then you have to do the same as a “would” motion. 

This House Regrets

The teams have to evaluate a past action based on its present effects; either say why its occurrence was beneficial or detrimental for a certain group of people. 

Ex: THR the globalization of the Day of the Dead. 

You have to look at the effects of the globalization of the Day of the Dead and argue if they’re good or bad. 

This House Supports

The teams have to argue why a certain action is right or wrong based on evidence. 

Ex: THS the trend of marrying at a later age. 

You have to substantiate your support for the trend. This means that you have to provide both analysis and evidence to define how you support the trend. 


What is a framework? 

Every motion needs to be framed in order to be debated in the clearest way. In order to do so, teams should define the variables in a motion in regards to the who, what, when, why, and how. They should also establish a given criteria to evaluate what the motion states or develop a mechanism to address how to implement policy to support their arguments. 


What are the important words of the motion and what do they mean?

Ex: THBT teachers should contradict curriculum that they believe will be harmful to society

Teachers: kindergarten to college

Contradict: refuse to teach content or modify content

Harmful: that has a negative or hindering effect


How should the judges decide who wins the debate? What does each side have to do in order to win the debate? What metric must be met?

Ex: THBT teachers should contradict curriculum that they believe will be harmful to society

The side that wins needs to prove that education is improved, that citizens are better informed, and that teachers are better at their jobs. 


How will you do what the motion asks you to do?

Ex:  THW ban competitive sports

Remove the win factor and make it friendly. 


What is the role of arguments in a debate, and how do I build arguments?

Every team needs to come up with 3 arguments. Arguments need to address the motion directly. 

Arguments are structured like essays or paragraphs. You need a main idea or central point, evidence to support that point, and analysis to tie it all together. You also need to explain why your argument is important or relevant, or why the judges should care about it, and how the argument you presented proves your criteria. 

Link to criteria



What is the role of each speaker in a debate?

First Speeches 

  • Establish the framework for the debate: definitions, criteria, mechanism
  • Present your team’s substantive case: argument 1 and argument 2.

Second Speeches

  • Address issues with the framework if necessary.
  • Rebuttal: address everything that the other team has said so far (explain why what they said is wrong, or why it matters less than what you’ve said)
  • Restrengthening: address what the other team said about your case. 
  • Present your team’s substantive case: argument 3.

Third Speeches

  • Analyze the debate and prove why you won by addressing the major points of clash (areas where teams most disagree). 
  • Compare both teams’ arguments and prove why yours are better. 
  • Provide new analysis.
  • Prove your criteria.

Reply Speeches 

  • Summarize the debate in past tense. 
  • Prove why you won by either proving the criteria, showing you have the most positive impact, or showing you’ve won most points


Another Brick At The Wall

Your team has a wall. Your job is to ensure that your wall remains standing throughout the debate. Your substantive case are the building blocks of your wall. 

When the other team refutes your substantive case, it is tearing down your wall. Hence, you always need to rebuild your wall. 

You should tear the other team’s wall and make sure yours is well built. 

The team with the best-built wall at the end of the debate is the team that ultimately wins.