Category Archives: Coaching

The (Unnoticed?) Standardization of High School Policy Debate Resolutions

One thing I like to do when researching a new debate topic is to review the list of old resolutions to see if and when similar issues were debated before. This can often provide useful ideas for arguments to explore, but it also offers an interesting historical perspective on the evolution of debate topics over time.

When investigating previous analogues to this year’s water resources topic — the 2003-2004 ocean policy topic, the 1985-1986 water quality topic, and the 1970-1971 pollution topic are the closest — it struck me how standardized topics have recently become. Until relatively recently, topics tended to vary in word choice and format from year to year. Even after the U.S. federal government became the standard agent of action in the 1960s, there was still significant year-to-year variation in mechanisms/verbs. These, too, started to standardize in the 1990s and 2000s, but since 2010 there has been yet another noticeable increase in topic standardization.

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Lesson Plan: Intelligence Squared Phone Surveillance Debate

Intelligence Squared hosted a debate about phone surveillance at the National Constitution Center on October 7, 2014. The topic for the debate was Resolved: Mass collection of U.S. phone records violates the Fourth Amendment. For students preparing for next season’s surveillance topic, this debate is an excellent introductory resource. This article outlines a lesson plan based on the debate that can be assigned to students regardless of their experience levels.

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Impact Description vs. Impact Comparison: A Better Way To Teach Impact Debating

Imagine that you’re in the market for a new car. You’re looking for a crossover, so you head to a Ford dealership and talk to a salesperson about a new Escape. She tells you that the Escape is a great car because it has great fuel economy, tons of interior space and leg room, and a powerful engine. It’s a pretty good sales pitch, but you want to be diligent and so you visit the nearby Honda dealership to check out a new CR-V. The salesperson tells you that the CR-V is a great car because it is extremely reliable, comes backed with an exceptional warranty, and gets great highway mileage. It’s another pretty good sales pitch. Wanting to make the right decision, you head back to the Ford dealership and ask the salesperson why you should buy the Escape instead of the CR-V. She reiterates that the Escape has great fuel economy, tons of interior space and leg room, and a powerful engine. But you already knew that; you want to know why the Escape is better than the CR-V. Disappointed, you return to the Honda dealership and ask the salesperson why you should buy the CR-V instead of the Escape. He reiterates that the CR-V is extremely reliable, comes backed with an exceptional warranty, and gets great highway mileage. Again, you are disappointed. You already knew that the CR-V was a good car, but you wanted to know why the CR-V was better than the Escape. Frustrated, you head home to read online reviews of the two models. While the sales associates did a good job of highlighting some of the best features of their respective models, they didn’t help you make the decision about which car to buy. For that, you were on your own.

The position you were left in is the same one that many judges are left in by debaters. Most students learn early in their careers that impact comparison wins debates. Judges love impact comparison because it helps them make decisions about the relative importance of different parts of a debate. As a judge, it is frustratingly difficult to make sense of debates without impact comparison. But much of what debaters consider impact comparison is really impact description. Instead of comparing the relative importance of each side’s impacts, debaters present sales pitches for their own impacts. While this is better than nothing, it outsources responsibility for comparison to the judge. Left with two competing sales pitches, they are on their own to decide which pitch is more believable. In the same way that good car salespersons convince potential buyers that their car is a better choice than their competitor’s car, good debaters convince judges that voting for their impact narrative is a better choice than voting for their opponent’s impact narrative. This requires comparison, not just description.

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Summer Lecture Flashback: Film Study

Over the course of the summer I recorded several lectures that have been posted to Debate Vision. While some readers might have already seen them, it can’t hurt to share them again here on The 3NR. This lecture discusses the use of film study in debate — it is embedded below the fold. A written adaptation of this lecture will appear in the September Rostrum.

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Using Guided Questions With Theory Articles: "Getting out of the Cards and into the Arguments" As An Example

The value of incorporating theory article reading and review into a student’s debate curriculum has been discussed at length in previous articles. One method that coaches can use to encourage students to delve into this literature is to provide a set of guided questions to accompany selected theory articles. In schools with formal debate classes, these short answer questions can be assigned as homework or used as quizzes to confirm that students are keeping up with their assigned reading.

To demonstrate this approach, a set of guided questions for Jim Lyle’s “Getting out of the Cards and into the Arguments: Strategies for Refutation (pdf)” is available below the fold. This article provides a wealth of actionable instruction about refutation techniques and is suggested for debaters of all levels. Coaches, feel free to reuse these questions however you would like.

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Becoming A Better Debater: 10 Ways For Students To Improve Their Interactions With Coaches

Students attending schools that provide them with competitive debate opportunities are fortunate. Those that are provided with access not only to debate but also to instruction from a professional debate coach are even more fortunate. But having a coach is not enough: students need to make the most of their interactions with coaches to truly reap the benefits that they can provide.

Previous installments in this series discussed general strategies for improving at debate and specific suggestions for developing a personal debate curriculum. This time, the focus shifts from out-of-the-classroom improvements to tangible ways that students can better utilize the expertise of their coaches inside the classroom. For those fortunate enough to have access to a professional debate coach, the following ten tips will help students maximize the value of their interactions with them.

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Chain Reaction: The 1995 Barkley Forum Coaches Luncheon Keynote Speech

While doing some electronic housekeeping I came across a wonderful article from the December 1999 issue of the National Forensic League’s Rostrum magazine. A written version of the speech delivered by Jim Fleissner at the Barkley Forum Coaches Luncheon in 1995, it is a poignant and compelling affirmation of the value of high school policy debate and a testament to the importance of those who teach and coach it. With another season winding down, it is a good time to reflect on the amazing power of our activity to transform lives. The full text of Fleissner’s speech is below the fold.

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Rostrum Response

In the last 6 months or so there have been quite a  few articles in the Rostrum attacking fast, national circuit policy debate. I was going to write a response for the NDCA coaches corner but in the interim several other response pieces were posted, so having my thunder stolen I decided to write something else. Below is some of what I wrote in a rough draft for the article.

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Debate Telephone

I was reading this book on comedy writing and it had some chapter about how the reason most people aren’t funny is that they don’t really come up with their own jokes, they basically just re-hash jokes people wrote a long time ago that they have seen before. Since the majority of humor is based on surprise, these recycled jokes lose some of their impact with each retelling. On top of that, the more times a joke gets told by different people the more of its original meaning gets lost and the less funny it becomes.

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