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In my previous article, I described our usual presentation structure, while also partially discussing Case 1. In this article, I will be focusing on case preparation and research, as well as some communication and teamwork practices.

How we prepare

The right research methods depend on the case and how much time you are willing to put in. For those familiar with policy debate, the process partially resembles policy debate research and brief-writing, but there are significant differences (especially because one doesn’t know what the questions will be and because one cannot bring in copies of their briefs/research). Overall, there are some general things you should brainstorm for every case, including:

  • Potential stakeholders and actors. I recommend you classify these in types and categories. For some of my (raw/personal) notes on this and a few other categories for Case 1, see this document.
  • How multiple ethical theories would approach it
  • Some potential questions or prompts
  • Some context (e.g. historical, cultural)
  • How experts tend to view the issue
  • Who your audience is or who you are trying to persuade (so that you don’t end up solely “preaching to the choir,” as I explained in my 2017 article)
  • Factual disputes or questions to be researched (e.g. “do animals feel pain in the same way we do?” “What even is pain?”)
  • Ethical/legal/policy concepts (general examples—not necessarily related to Case 1—include: moral hazard, constitutional/human rights, purposes of punishment, autonomy vs. paternalism)

These categories should not be addressed in a strictly linear fashion; sometimes thinking of a possible prompt can reveal more factual questions you need to research (or vice versa).


In regards to practice, we are still testing things out, but we do try to bring in faculty or other people with relevant knowledge or experience to judge practice rounds and provide commentary (for example, we may bring in journalism faculty for Case 5). Additionally, we keep notes and discuss the results of debates, research, etc.

Lastly, I will say that I’m a huge proponent of Kialo and I really see how this could be effective in prep. Not only could this allow you to structure and diagram your team’s reasoning, it is typically worth looking through Kialo just to see if any discussions relate to the case you are analyzing (for example, there is a medium-sized discussion related to Case 2). Note that you can make your team’s discussion private.

In-round communication

Because you can present as a panel (of up to five people), communicating amongst your team members is especially crucial in ethics bowl. Additionally, because of the (typically) short prep time provided and the dynamic flow of a 7–10-minute speech, team members often need to communicate during a speech. This means that one should try to avoid distracting the judges/audience. Thus, among other competing goals, intra-team communication practices should try to be discreet yet effective (e.g. fast, clear, and noticeable by teammates). With that all being said, here are some of the methods we’ve picked up:

  • Paper. To begin a round—prior to even hearing the questions for each round—we tear some of the paper provided to us into sticky-note-size pieces to pass as notes amongst us (since teams are not permitted to bring in their own paper). (Also, remember that most regionals prohibit talking during the other team’s presentation.)
  • Check. Additionally, when using these notes during the round we usually do things such as “peer-reviewing,” which can involve simply showing the note to someone who is not busy or speaking, to get their feedback or approval before passing it “down the line.”
  • Seating. To foster communication, once the case is announced we reorganize who is sitting next to whom depending on the case (for example, we would usually move the appropriate case expert towards the middle) so that the people most important for the case are sitting near the middle. (We normally have the team leader sit directly in the middle regardless of the case.)
  • Huddle. During prep time, we “huddle” by forming a slight U shape so that we can all see each other without having to leave our seats. However, depending on factors such as the question and how effectively we have been working together, we sometimes may break up into smaller units to each cover separate parts of the case.
    For example: for Case 1, we would start by huddling and making sure we properly understand the prompt. Next, if we already know the broad/simplified answer we want to give, the case expert and/or team lead may briefly list a few caveats or clarifications to the whole huddle. After this point, individuals or groups of people could say that they will plan to cover specific justifications/preemptions (for example, one person or group could cover the aspects like “pain and suffering for animals” while others could cover aspects like “religious freedom”), and then turn to talk among their smaller groups (or think on their own) about specific justifications. The lead speaker or case expert could plan out the specifics of their long answer and think about any other issues they may need to address. Finally, before our prep time concludes, we reconvene and ensure everyone is still on the same page, discuss speaking order, etc.

Of course, this is all the ideal; without practice, this doesn’t usually happen as planned. Still, the goal is to improve the division of labor and thought without undermining coherence.


During our speeches, we usually use simple hand signals to communicate with the person currently speaking. This is a very important practice. Here is the pattern I recommend (with the idea that “more fingers = more urgency/disruption”):

    1. One finger = I have a quick thing to add to what you are saying (such as an example/illustration)—but then I’ll give it right back to you.
    2. Two fingers = I have a new/separate point to add once you finish your point(s).
    3. Three fingers = You need to speed it along / we are running out of time.
    4. Four fingers (perhaps in a V) = Stop! (as soon as possible); you are saying something plainly wrong or otherwise doing something that is undermining us.

Lastly, we have developed a kind of “Help me” signal so that the speaker can communicate that they need someone to step in (e.g. when they have run out of content). Last season we did this by getting everyone a bright yellow mechanical pencil, which they would place near their other pens/pencils. If the speaker needed help, they would pick up the pencil and start scribbling or using it to gesture. Just make it look natural!


Ultimately, these are just some of the main things we try to do. Solid research and analysis prior to the tournament is crucial, but your team also will need to have solid communication if you want to really thrive. And, as always, think creatively, experiment, and determine what works for your team.

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