Middle School Public Debate Program
Tournament Rules & Procedures
As it is grounded in human persuasion, debating is inherently a subjective activity. Determining the winner of academic debating competition ultimately comes down to the preferences of the adjudicators who evaluate the round. That said, debate operates on a set of common assumptions about format and conduct that should be shared by all who participate in the activity. Those common assumptions are discussed in the Rules & Procedures section of this document.
Each middle school is permitted to enter up to six teams of three students each in the competition (for a total of 18 students from each school). Eligibility of particular students is left to each school’s discretion, but generally, the student must be enrolled and in good standing at the middle school he or she represents.
Pairing & Scheduling
Contestants must participate in the tournament as three-person teams.
Teams will be scheduled in rounds with one other team, one team will be assigned to advance the motion (the “Proposition”) and one team will be assigned to oppose the motion (the “Opposition”).
Each team will participate in a minimum of four preliminary rounds to determine their eligibility for the Semifinal and Final rounds.
If an odd number of teams enter the competition, a team may receive a “bye” during the preliminary phase of the competition. Each team will receive no more than one bye for the preliminary phase of the competition. A bye will be recorded as a “win” for that team and the team’s points for the bye round will be averaged based on their points from other preliminary rounds.
Preliminary round sides, positions and topics will be announced at 15 minutes prior to the start time of the debate.
Each preliminary round and the final round will use a unique motion. Motions will concern current controversial events and/or timeless philosophical or political issues.
The Semifinal round will be contested by the teams with the highest placing (based on preliminary round team win/loss record and points) from the preliminary rounds. The winning teams from each Semifinal round will contest the Final Round.
Failure of a team to attend any preliminary, Semifinal or Final round(s) at the time and place scheduled forfeits that team’s eligibility for the Championship. In the absence of a partner, individuals may opt to participate in the preliminary round but will be ineligible for advancement to the Semifinal or Final rounds.
Speaking Order and Time Limits
Each member of a team will make their presentation, within the time allotted, in the following order:
First Speaker: Proposition (5 minutes)
First Speaker: Opposition (5 minutes)
Second Speaker: Proposition (5 minutes)
Second Speaker: Opposition (5 minutes)
Rebuttal Speaker: Opposition (5 minutes, no POIs)
Rebuttal Speaker: Proposition (3 minutes, no POIs)
Adjudication of Debates
Each debate will be judged by at least one qualified judge. At times, a odd-numbered panel of adjudicators may judge the debate.
One team will be selected as the "winner" of the round. Ties in rank are not permitted.
Each speaker in the debate will receive a score between 1-30.
A team score will be calculated for each team in the round. The team score shall be the sum of each individual debater’s speaker score on a particular team. Team scores will have a range of 1-90.
At the conclusion of each debate, the adjudicator will decide which team has won the round and assign points to each of the speakers. If the round is judged by an adjudication panel, the panel will confer to discuss the round and to attempt to reach a consensus on the decision. Should a consensus be unreachable, the majority opinion of the adjudication panel will prevail.
Once a decision has been reached, the adjudicator (or the chair of the panel) should reveal the decision and explain the reasons for the decision. The adjudicator or chair should also reveal speaker points awarded to each speaker.
All decisions of the adjudicator or the adjudication panel will be final and may not be appealed.
Evaluation of Debates
Debates will be assessed by evaluating the matter and manner of each team in an effort to determine the successful team in the debate.
Matter relates to the issues addressed in the debate and the arguments used to advance a position. Adjudicators should evaluate the relevance of the issues identified by the debaters and the strength of the evidence offered to support the debater’s claims.
Manner refers to a debater’s presentation and strategy. Adjudicators should evaluate the effectiveness of the debater’s organization and structure, their engagement of issues and each debater’s presentation of their arguments. Adjudicators should also evaluate cooperation among team members to advance a consistent and coherent position.
Free and Open Forum
As a laboratory for developing the skills necessary for engaged citizenry, the activity of debating and this contest fully embrace the ideals of open discussion of all issues and the freedom to advocate for one’s personal convictions. Moreover, as an academic exercise, the speech of participants entered in this tournament is protected by the provisions of academic freedom. This freedom and openness carries with it the responsibility to exercise those rights in a way that preserves those opportunities for others and doesn’t seek to exclude from the discourse those with whom an advocate may disagree.
Harassment of participants, behavior designed to intimidate or belittle participants or any conduct that is contrary to the free and open exchange of ideas will not be tolerated. Any participant who engages in such practices may be expelled from the competition at the sole discretion of the tournament organizers.
Frequently Asked Questions
What will be debated?
A list of topics for the debate competition have been posted to the "topics" page and preparation materials have been published on the MSPD blog. Topics were selected to provide a range of debates on current political and social affairs that can be engaged by the motivated middle school student.
What happens after topic announcement?
Before each scheduled round debate, a topic will be announced. Debaters will have 15 minutes of preparation time to review their notes, speak with their coaches and teammates, and copy notes or other information for use in the upcoming debate.
What materials and assistance may be accessed during the preparation time?
Before a debate tournament or competition, or during preparation time, students may review any and all information that would help them prepare for a debate. They may review books from the library, current event articles in newspapers and magazines, websites, blogs, class notes, and written records of debate meetings and previous debates. They may speak to teachers, coaches, teammates, parents, friends, and others.
What notes and materials may be referenced once the round has begun?
During preparation time, the debaters are encouraged to write any notes they wish to reference during the round to deliver their speech, as only the materials generated during this preparation time may be used once the debate round has begun.
Once the debate begins, students may not employ any materials, even hand written notes, which were created prior to the announced start of preparation time. In particular, students may not read a manuscript written in advance. The use of prepared materials is a serious violation of the rules and may result in forfeiture.
What does a debate round look like?
The proposition team is expected to support the topic with argumentation and answer any argumentation offered by the opposition team. Conversely, the opposition team's objective is to offer counter-argumentation to address the proposition team's arguments and/or the topic in principle.
Each debate team is comprised of 3 students. One student takes on the role as the first speaker for their team; another student contributes as the second speaker for the team; and the third student is the team’s rebuttal speaker. Each round is a competition between 2 debate teams.
What are “Points of Information?”
One of the conventions of parliamentary style debate is the Point of Information. A Point of Information (also known as a POI, pronounced “P-O-I”) is a brief, yet direct challenge to the speaker in the form of single comment or question. Points of Information are an expected form of engagement by both proposition and opposition teams.
A POI offered by an opponent after the first and before the last minute of each constructive speech, may be accepted at the discretion of the speaker holding the floor. The speaker accepts only a single point at a time. The person making a Point of Information may not interrupt the speaker’s answer to the point, make a two-part question, ask a follow-up question, or make any other comment unless the speaker agrees to it by accepting an additional Point of Information. Highly effective POI's are articulated in 15 seconds or less, as these serve to communicate specific intentions, strategies or argumentation to the audience, judge and speaker.
When is new argumentation appropriate?
The first four speeches are considered constructive speeches. In these speeches, each team is expected to construct, or build, arguments that support their side (proposition or opposition). New arguments welcomed in any of these speeches.
The strategic purpose of the final speaker for each team is to offer rebuttal and summary comments. In these speeches, the speaker is expected to evaluate the arguments made by both teams and communicate how in comparison their team has offered the more salient, relevant and substantive argumentation. Any new argumentation offered by either rebuttal speaker will simply be disregarded by the judge. A new argument is defined as an argument that has no foundation in the proceeding constructive speeches.