Debate Assignment (prototype)


We will use a modified version of the Popper Format for our debates. In this format, each team has three members:

1. An opening speaker (leader)
2. A cross-examiner (examiner)
3. A closing speaker (closer)

Each debate involves two teams responding to a statement pre-selected by the instructor beforehand. This statement will be called the proposition. (These are given below.) Of the two teams, one will respond Affirmatively, basically agreeing with the proposition and one will respond Negatively, disagreeing with it. The Affirmative Team will be called the Red Team, and the Negative Team will be called the Blue Team. This format does not allow for mixed or intermediate positions!


Debates last for approximately 50 minutes. Time is strictly enforced. The structure is as follows:

Part I: Opening Statements 12 minutes
1. The Red Team Leader presents the Red Team's opening arguments. 6 minutes
2. The Blue Team Leader presents the Blue Team's opening arguments. 6 minutes
Part II: Cross Examination 16 minutes
3. The Blue Team Examiner asks critical questions of the Red Team's position. 3 minutes
4. The Red Team may confer prior to answering the questions. 3 minutes.
5. The Red Team Examiner answers for the team. 2 minutes.
6. The Red Team Examiner asks critical questions of the Blue Team's position. 3 minutes
7. The Blue Team may confer prior to answering the questions. 3 minutes.
8. The Blue Team Examiner answers for the team. 2 minutes
Part III Closing Arguments 10 minutes
9. The Red Team Closer presents the Red Team's closing arguments. 5 minutes
10. The Blue team Closer presents the Blue Team's closing arguments. 5 minutes
Part IV: Judging and Debriefing 12 minutes
11. The Red and Blue teams are excused. The audience confers in order to determine the winner of the debate. 5 minutes
12. The teams are brought back in, the winning team announced, and the floor is opened for general comments, questions, and feedback. 7 minutes


Though teams are expected to function as a team for purposes of the debate, grading is individual. Each student will be graded on how well they perform the responsibilities of their position within the team. It should be obvious from this that student grades are NOT solely determined by whether or not your team happens to win its debate. That said, persuasiveness does count, and a win is good evidence of persuasive argumentation!

Excellent (4) Good (3) Adequate (2) Poor (1) Unacceptable (0)
Argumentation The argumentation given is well-structured and cogent, rationally persuasive, and where appropriate, based in relevant factual evidence. The argumentation presented is structured, cogent and based in relevant factual evidence where appropriate, but fails to be persuasive or rationally convincing. Structured argumentation on the basis of reasons is presented, but isn't always cogent or persuasive. Evidence and reasons may be lacking where needed, but it is still clear what reasons are being given in support of what positions. Argumentation is suggested but isn't clearly given. There may be little or no evidence that an attempt has been made to present cogent arguments. The author may at times lapse into fallacies or maneuvers such as "rhetorical questions" in order to make points instead of offering reasons or evidence in support of them. There is little or no attempt to be persuasive or to argue in a cogent way. The speaker simply falls back on the fact that what is said is his or her opinion.
Responsiveness The speaker exhibits not just understanding and respect but real knowledge of the nuances of the opposing position. Questions to the other side are not just relevant but direct and substantive. One gets the sense that the speaker knows the other side's case well enough to argue it him or herself. The speaker exhibits a clear understanding of and respect for the opposing position. Questions to the other side are relevant and substantive. The speaker understands the basics of the opposing position. Questions are relevant even if not always targeted to the heart of the opposing position's case. The speaker struggles to recall basic details of the opposing position. Questions lack relevance, concern matters that could reasonably be said to be general knowledge about the opposing position, or are open-ended in a way that sidetracks the debate rather than keeping it focused on the positions. The speaker seems to be unfamiliar with the opposing position or to lack understanding of even its most basic points. The speaker struggles to form coherent questions of any sort about the opposing position.
Preparation All instructions and guidelines for the debate have been observed. Presenters know their roles and perform them at the appropriate times. There is a clear sense that team members are actively pulling their own weight. Facts, where presented, are well-researched, and arguments well-thought-out. This is generally evident in presentations and in responses to questions. There is evidence of a high level of advance preparation for the debate. All instructions and formatting criteria for the assignment have been observed. Though the presenters get the job done there is some inefficiency or awkwardness in the execution of their roles. There may be minor but inconsequential lapses in preparation that do not affect the main points being made. There is clear evidence of at least some advance preparation. Though presentations or responses to questions may not be great, there is still a general sense of understanding of content present. All instructions and guidelines for the debate are followed for the most part, but there may be minor lapses or confusion about the procedures. There may be room to question whether team members are pulling their weight within the team. Presentations or responses to questions may be minimal, exhibit minor inaccuracies, or otherwise suggest that full understanding of the content has not been achieved. Team members seem lost or not to be prepared to fulfill their roles. Presenters seem to be only marginally aware of the instructions and guidelines of the debate. There are major factual and logical gaps in the presentations or responses to questions. These may also be shoddy, irrelevant, unduly improvised or "BS", or otherwise indicate that minimal preparation has not been done. Team members present a poor showing that would be inappropriate in a professional setting. Team members are absent, unwilling or otherwise completely unprepared to play their role on their team.
Organization The presentation is clear, concise and efficient, presenting a continuous, logical line of thought that is made evident to the audience from the very start. The presentation, for the most part, displays a continuous, logical line of thought, but gets hung up on minor points, digressions, or makes similar small errors of focus. The presentation may proceed according to an overly conversational format, lack the sort of transitions that indicate an organized passage between thoughts, or exhibit similar flaws. The presentation may ramble, become incoherent, or exhibit a free-association/ "stream of consciousness" sort of pattern. The audience is, for the most part, left completely in the dark as to where the presenter is going. More than one of the flaws listed under "Poor" may be in evidence, or the presentation may largely be an incoherent ramble with no discernible structure at all.
Ethos The speaker is clear, confident and coherent. Without sacrificing efficiency, the speaker lays out his or her main points, makes appropriate use of definitions and clarifying information, and guides the audience through the main line of argument with a steady hand. The speaker is clear, confident and coherent, but may be inefficient in allocating time between presenting clarifying material and presenting the main points or arguments. The speaker lays out the main position clearly, and at least sketches the main reasons in support of it, but demonstrates lack of confidence or over-subjectivity (e.g. as indicated by "I think", "I feel" or " me" sorts of expressions), or is otherwise problematically unclear. The speaker presents a position the relevance of which is doubtful, or which is problematically unclear in its terms. The speaker fails to demonstrate confidence, or fails to set out any reasons in support of the main position. The speaker fails to show up, uses colloquial forms or patterns of speech that may not be clear to all in the audience (e.g. some forms of "slang") or is otherwise unclear, or seems to be improvising, "BS-ing", or talking around the proposition rather than laying out a prepared position.
Civility The presenter actively listens to and displays conspicuous respect for the point of view of the opposing team and adheres strictly to time limits. Questions are phrased clearly, courteously, efficiently, and fairly. The presenter actively listens to and displays conspicuous respect for the point of view of the opposing team, but may marginally exceed time limits. Questions may lack one of the qualities listed under "Excellent" but are not phrased in a hostile or disrespectful manner. The presenter does not blatantly disrespect the point of view of the opposing team, but doesn't give any indications of respect either. The presenter may show little or no indication of listening to the opposing team. Time limits may or may not be observed. Questions may lack more than one of the qualities listed under "Excellent" but are at least fair. The presenter shows signs of indifference to or moderate disrespect for the point of view of the opposing team. The presenter may be blatantly ignoring the opposing team. Time limits may not be respected. Questions may be irrelevant in addition to lacking two or more of the qualities listed under "Excellent". The presenter doesn't just ignore the opposing team but engages in distortions of their view or personal attacks instead of responding directly to their points. Time limits may not be respected. Questions may be loaded or otherwise phrased in ways to unfairly disadvantage the other team.

Relative Weights

Relative weights for each area in the rubric are provided to give you a sense of how the factors line up in terms of their importance. Think of the weights as a ratio—much as you would think about the ratio of one ingredient to another in a recipe. A cake recipe may require more flour than sugar, but that does not mean that the sugar can be left out without consequences for the cake! In the same way, it may well be that substantive content is weighted more heavily than organization, but poor organization will have carryover effects on other areas of evaluation. Structure your work accordingly, keeping each of the areas and their inter-relationships with each other equally in mind.

Argumentation 4
Responsiveness 4
Preparation 3
Organization 2
Ethos 2
Civility 2

Sample Propositions

1. For PHL 370: Social and Political Philosophy

Equality is the most important political principle for insuring social justice in cities.

2. For PHL 126: Persons and Values

Ethical action is possible even in a deterministic universe.

3. For PHL 225: Ethics

Mill's Utilitiarianism is the best moral framework for dealing with the problem of urban poverty.

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