Participating in debates

Debating has a very long tradition. WW2 Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, was a great debater who once said that 'jaw jaw is better than war war'.

A debate is based around a suggestion or ‘motion’ relating to an idea or opinion. People who are arguing to support the motion are called the ‘proposers’. and people arguing against the motion are the ‘opposers’.

An example of a motion is: Children should be allowed to leave school at 14.

Debating order

The order that is followed in a formal debate is:

  1. The debate is chaired by a 'speaker', who reads out the motion.
  2. The first proposer presents the arguments for the motion.
  3. The first opposer presents the arguments against the motion.
  4. The second proposer presents further arguments in favour of the motion.
  5. The second opposer presents further arguments against the motion.
  6. This side-to-side debating of the motion continues until all the people involved have had their say. The rules of a formal debate are quite strict, limiting each contributor to speaking only once during the debate.
  7. An opposer then sums up the key points of the argument against the motion.
  8. A proposer then sums up the argument for the motion.
  9. The speaker re-reads the motion.
  10. The audience then votes 'for' or 'against' the motion. In debates in the House of Commons, once the speeches are over, the doors are locked and the vote is taken by individual MPs moving to one side or other of the chamber as either 'Ayes' in favour or 'Noes' against. Each side then shouts out 'Aye' or 'No' and the Speaker decides which side has won the debate.

Less formal debates

In a less formal debate, the rules will probably be much more relaxed, but the following will probably be a part of it:

  • a motion
  • a 'speaker' acting as a moderator
  • one team of proposers who will all present a speech
  • one team of opposers who will all present a speech
  • a vote to decide the winner of the motion

If you are going to be a proposer or an opposer of a motion, it is important that you listen well to the contributions of others. This is so that you are able to do the following:

  • summarise what has already been said
  • build on what has been said with new points
  • counter points made by the opposition with your own points
Being a good listener is as important as being a good speaker when communicating with people.