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Speech and Debate

Course Overview

French moralist Joseph Joubert once quipped, “It is better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it.” The goal for this class is to develop the dual arts of debate and oration, and perhaps settle some questions along the way. Speech and Debate is a year-long elective that will give students an introduction to a variety of public speaking and formal debate styles, with a focus on Public Forum and Lincoln-Douglas formats. Throughout the course, students will become familiar with these styles through instruction, research, observation, and lots and lots of practice. Special emphasis will be placed on critical thinking and listening skills as well as argument resolution, making this course an excellent companion to their other core courses. Course objectives include: generating strong cases by utilizing effective research techniques, organizing data into persuasive speeches, and anticipating opposing arguments; identifying and emulating strong argumentative and rhetorical techniques while simultaneously avoiding fallacies and other unethical debate practices; utilizing active listening and note-taking skills during debates in order to modify and strengthen a position; developing strong public speaking skills by delivering both planned and impromptu speeches; and improving interpersonal skills by collaborating with teammates on research and case development. While students will largely explore elements of debate in a non-competitive environment, they may choose to participate in both local and virtual competitions. More than anything, this elective should be an enjoyable and highly participatory end to the students’ school week.

Course Content

Unit 1: Introduction to Speech and Debate

This three-week introductory unit gives the instructor a sense of the students’ understanding of Speech & Debate before they dive into the more nuanced materials of the course. In this opening unit, students will get to know one another, establish guidelines for their live sessions, become familiar with common assignments and classroom procedures, and explore resources available to them through the National Speech & Debate Association (NSDA). Throughout the week, students will complete Flipgrid posts, add to collaborative Padlets each week, debate the merits of debating, and become familiar with the most common speech and debate formats. During the live sessions on Fridays, students will collaborate to build foundational knowledge about NSDA events and public speaking techniques. They will also have the opportunity to test their public speaking skills via interactive games, spirited discussions, and extemporaneous debates.

Unit 2: Public Forum Debate

The second unit of the school year zeroes in on Public Forum Debate. This approachable format gives students a strong foundation in debate terminology and structure that can be applied to other, more complicated formats. The second unit lasts for the rest of the fall semester and covers debate basics, research techniques, judging practices, Public Forum terminology, structure and argumentation, and public speaking skills. The students will work with resolutions offered by the NSDA and will have the opportunity to compete in online tournaments using those resolutions, if they’re interested. Since Public Forum is a team event, students will learn how to collaborate to put together the most cohesive cases possible. Students will complete preparatory work such as research asynchronously, but most of the case construction will happen during the Friday live sessions. They will receive feedback from both the instructor and each other throughout the unit. The unit will culminate with a full mock debate, complete with lay judges from outside the class.

Unit 3: Lincoln-Douglas Debate

The third unit of the school year switches gears slightly to focus on the Lincoln-Douglas debate format. While Public Forum is a team event, Lincoln-Douglas is individual, so the students will experience both the benefits and challenges of working independently. Lincoln-Douglas is also more philosophical in nature than Public Forum, so many of the live sessions will be spent discussing the nuances of the resolutions, which will be provided by the National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA). After discussing the history and structure of the format, the students will have the opportunity to deepen their research skills, learn how to cut cards to prepare for full debates, explore major philosophical concepts. They will complete discussion boards, deliver speeches asynchronously on Flipgrid, and collaboratively analyze recordings of Lincoln-Douglas debates. This unit will run through the first half of the spring and will culminate with a full mock debate, complete with outside judges.

Unit 4: Parliamentary Debate and Additional Debate Formats

The final unit of the year focuses on Parliamentary Debate, a popular format that emphasizes extemporaneous speaking skills. While previous formats required extensive research, multiple drafts of carefully constructed speeches, and fiery cross examinations, Parliamentary Debate asks students to structure speeches on the fly and deliver them with humor, passion, and persuasiveness. In Parliamentary Debate, students are not given the topics until immediately before the debate begins, so this unit will focus on idea generation, quickly outlining complex thoughts, and general public speaking skills. Parliamentary Debate is a team event, with the number of debaters on each team varying by format (British or American). Students will often work with their teammates to analyze recorded Parliamentary debates and will play a variety of public speaking games in both small and large groups. This unit will conclude with a full mock Parliamentary Debate, complete with outside judges. We will also explore other debate styles according to the interests of the students. Other formats might include Policy Debate, Congressional Debate, and Big Questions Debate. Finally, the students will deliver a limited-preparation speech as their final assignment of the school year. This limited-preparation speech will be collaborative and will ask students to reflect upon their time in Speech & Debate. These speeches will be presented to incoming students at the beginning of the following school year.