What is a debate:

Asiphe: Mama, I’m the only one in the class who doesn’t have a smart phone.

Mama: We’ve spoken about this before and you’re not getting one.

Asiphe: Mama, please. It’s horrible being the only one.

Mama: I’ve told you. You are not getting one. End of discussion!

The dialogue above is not a debate. It’s a disagreement, or an argument. When you’re having an argument, you often feel upset and it is difficult to listen to the other person’s point of view.

In a debate there is also a disagreement, with different points of view. However, in a debate, you need to be logical and reasonable, and in a formal debate, you have to listen to each other’s point of view extremely carefully.

A formal debate is a way of arguing a point with specific steps and rules that manage the process. A debate can take place between 2 people (or two teams) with a third person who chairs (manages) the debate.

So, let’s say that the topic under debate is whether or not all learners should return to school during the pandemic. The topic needs to be stated giving one side, for example,
All South African learners must return to school during the pandemic.
Only selected grades should return to school until the pandemic is over.

These are the steps to follow:

1. The Chair welcomes the speakers and the audience and opens the debate by introducing the topic. She indicates how long the debate will take and how long each speaker has to give their input. She also tells the audience whether they will be allowed to pose questions to the teams at the end of the debate. The chair is neutral and must not take anyone’s side. She is only there to ensure that each speaker has a chance to speak, that each speaker sticks to time and that teams do not interrupt each other. She also closes the debate and can take a vote from the audience to decide which team wins the debate.

2. Speaker 1 of the proponents (who agree with the statement) introduces the team and provides their opening statement: I/We agree with the statement that……and provide a brief summary of their reasons.
3. The Chair thanks Team 1 and asks Team 2 to introduce their opening statement.
4. Speaker 1 of the opponents (who are speaking against the topic) introduces the team and provides their opening statement: I/We believe disagree with the statement……and provide a summary of their reasons.

5. Once both teams have given their opening statements, the Chair asks team 1 to elaborate on their views and says they may also give REBUTTALS. A rebuttal is a counter-argument. So, if team 2 said they disagree that all learners should go back to school because they will become infected and die, Team 1 could say something like,
“Yes, we agree that the virus is dangerous and we agree that no one should have to risk their lives. However, the WHO (Word Health Organisation) has stated that with the use of masks, social distancing and good sanitation, people are safe”.
When Team 2 gets their chance to rebut, they may say,
“Yes. Wearing masks and sanitising and keeping distancing does keep people safe. HOWEVER, it is not possible to do social distancing in overcrowded schools because there are not enough classrooms or space to ensure that learners can sit 1,5 km apart from each other”. Then they could introduce their new reason, that there are not sufficient teachers at the schools because SA Stats show that over 10 teachers have already died, and hundreds are on quarantine. Added to that are the thousands of teachers who must stay away from schools as they are at a high risk of getting infected because of their age or other health problems.

6. And the debate continues, always working through the Chairperson.

7. Once each team has been given sufficient time to present their case (all their reasons and evidence) the Chair asks them to give their closing statement by restating their view and summing up their reasons. It is wise to acknowledge some of the points made by the opposing team, for example:
“We acknowledge that the opponents have given good reasons, and that this is indeed a serious pandemic and lives must always come first. However, we still believe that having education is an essential right and that we are failing the youth by keeping them out of school. Rather we must put pressure on the government to make our schools safe so that we can continue to lead full and meaningful lives”.

8. If there is sufficient time, the Chair may then ask the audience if there are any questions. She should be sure to limit the questions and ensure that they are fair and directed to the appropriate team.

9. The chair then asks the audience to vote on which team made the most convincing arguments. She counts the votes and then declares who has won the debate.

To sum up, a debate happens when two people (or teams) argue for or against a given topic. This is managed by a Chair. The point of the debate is to make the most convincing argument by using REASON and EVIDENCE to support your views. Therefore, good debaters plan and research their topic and listen carefully to their opponents. If they listen to the information given by the other team, they will be more able to provide a counter argument (or a rebuttal) that weakens their opponent’s argument. Good debaters speak clearly and loudly, and they know what they want to say. Mumbling or stumbling for words makes their argument look weak.
So, why not get started on a topic?


Debate – A planned discussion between 2 or more people who have different views on a topic.

Chair(person) – The person who introduces the topic and the speakers and ensures speakers keep to time and don’t interrupt each other. The chair also draws the debate an end and may ask the audience to decide which team was more convincing.

Opposing – The team that holds an opposite view.

Argument – A set of reasons given in support of an idea/view.

Evidence – Facts and information to show that something is true.

Rebuttal – A counter-argument.

Proponent – The speaker or team who agrees with the statement.

Opponent – The speaker or team who is arguing against the statement.