Debate Class Curriculum – 7th/8th Grade

The following guide is our own plan for using Upside Down Debate and introducing a younger-than-normal class to debate basics.

Students should expect to learn the fundamentals of persuasion (arguing from shared assumptions), commit to attitudes of Platonic rhetoric (against the Sophists), learn the formats of debate, write their own case, learn how to organize responses, survey the 12 types of refuting arguments, and try a few debate rounds.

The format of class is written for a true coaching format, where students do 90% of the talking rather than the coach lecturing.




Attend Debate Camp

Starting debate in a class is just a really slow way of going about what can and should be learnt in a compressed environment. Debate is a combination of three things: public speaking, content, and debate argumentation. Assembling those three parts is easy in a dedicated day or two, but those 16 hours can take 16 weeks in a class setting! Because debate is caught more than taught, an early experience to make further teaching relevant is pretty important.

Find a camp. Here are some scheduled ones. You can also book one – for example Ethos can fly an instructor in for a Friday/Saturday camp that costs around $50/participant.

Get Comfortable, Have Fun

Have them learn delivery/speaking basics with speech games. If you’re adventurous, debate a silly topic with responding 2-minute speeches. (Example: “Water should be free,” “If aliens land on the moon, we should just watch and see what they do next.”) Debate is built upon public speaking, but many who sign up expect to learn this.

Coaching points:

  • Vocal Variance: tone, rate, pitch, volume
  • Vocal Confidence: remove fillers, project
  • Physical Confidence: stand still, use wide gestures, smile

Assign Upside Down Debate chapters 1-4. Tell students to know the definition of debate (its four parts).

Classify Resolutions in Real-Time (while debating)

Conduct mini parli debates in class where people just take turns giving 3-minute speeches on fun resolutions, perhaps relevant to other coursework such as history. Some examples: “James Madison would make a better next President than George Washington” (value), “The United States should train teens in firerarm use and safety” (policy), or “Rome’s lack of philosophy led to its demise” (fact). Each resolution, have them classify its type, according to the Chapter 3 on types of resolutions – don’t tell them what it is! – and see if they can identify what each side needs to do to “win” the debate.

Coaching Points:

  • Burdens of different resolution types
  • Framing the debate in a fair and meaningful way
  • Directly responding to points, not just making other points

Assign Upside Down Debate chapters 5-7. One of these chapters is on notetaking (“flowing”). Require handwritten notes on a speech, such as a Pastor’s Sermon, or an Intelligence Squared debate.

Adopt Active Listening as a life habit

Begin by whiteboarding with students the likely attributes of a “good audience.” Then ask them if they can commit to those attributes for the rest of the season – and hold them to it. Buwahaha teacher Jedi mind tricks. Practice more parli debate, but this time emphasizing flowing. Introduce topic you’ll be using the rest of class (e.g. an LD or TP topic from Stoa or NCFCA leagues).

Coaching Points:

  • “How can you keep up with a lot of info?” – Start using shorthand
  • “When do you think you should prepare your counterpoints?” – Start writing responses and points at the same time
  • Audiences have perfect flows, next-up debaters do not – but the audience would never know

Assign chapters 8-9 of Upside Down Debate and a research assignment: find 5 deep assumptions of your worldview or that society shares on the season’s debate topic.

Use Shared Assumptions to Persuade “from”

Debate on results of previous assignment – someone advocates that “these are the most important assumptions to be shared about the topic” and someone else responds with reasons those aren’t the key assumptions, but instead there are other ones. Teams would be better, if you can pull it off without burning more than 5 minutes.

Coaching Points:

  • Unsaid assumptions of audience – help people think about building agreement to persuade their audience
  • Common ground with opponents – help debaters articulate exactly where the disagreement lies
  • Use historical examples, not just theoretics, to prove your points

Assign Chapter 10 of Upside Down Debate.

Also assign a project: return with a 3-4 minute “case” for the topic.

Race to a Case

Listen to the cases people brought, then help them think about how to expand them. Need to start using a computer to track outlines and research. If time, show some basics of research on the projector.

Coaching Points:

  • What is the most significant reasonable objection to this case?
  • What types of sources do you need to improve this case?
  • How to keep more info than you will use in an outline form

No reading. Improve your case outline and bring it back with five sources you’ve used for information to support the case. Be prepared to present the case for 5 minutes and withstand a CX.

Refine a Case

(Note: students will learn a real-life market research technique of audience interviews)

This is a workshop on helping people find next steps with each of their cases. It’s hyper individualized in terms of what feedback people need, but make sure they write it down and commit to it. Generate the feedback by having them present the case and allowing 2-3 students to CX them for one minute each.

Coaching Points:

  • Use of research and support, including proper citation for the audience
  • Time management / case point prioritization
  • CX response as a reasonable person, not an argumentative one

Assignment 1: refine the case. everyone must take the next steps on cases, and build their presentation-worthy cases. If you’re doing team debate, you can assign teams here and have the teams pick just one student’s case to polish.

Assignment 2: audience feedback. You can give students ballots to get filled out by friends/family/neighbors. Require 3 presentations of the case at separate occasions, with feedback. Ballots should have the following:

  1. What did you think was the primary theme of the case?
  2. What was your most significant doubt?
  3. Did you change your mind, or become more set in your position?
  4. What was your favorite line?

Neg Intro: Break Cases Into Parts; Refute the Parts

Time to think negative. First, have students discuss what they learned from real-life feedback. Then have just a couple practical takes at negating and continuing a round, to whet their appetite. Someone must present a case, then have NEG cross-examine and give a responding speech to the case. AFF gets one response speech, and NEG a response speech. Remember they may not know how to respond yet, so kind of see what happens and perhaps coach them to be a little more directly responsive, or to have a clearly articulated thesis as neg. We’re helping them feel the need for NEG responses.

Coaching Points:

  • Direct answers to CX
  • NEG needs a thesis, not just responses
  • Work from shared assumptions on NEG: say “here’s our common ground… , but where we disagree is…”

Assign Chapters 11-12 of Upside Down Debate and being NEG next week.

Post who is going to negate which cases the following week (likely won’t have time for everyone to go, but everyone should prepare). Require that opponents share cases.

Making a “Case” for NEG

The rest of classes are situational – depending on level of students and what they have done. Work on student material to help improve their negative cases. If anyone has enough to go, run a debate. Otherwise, provide tips and concrete next steps to each individual/team.

Coaching Points:

  • Balancing offensive and mitigating arguments
  • Concision and organization in micro-refutation
  • Compelling thesis supported by a macro-refutation position

Assign Chapter 13 of Upside Down Debate and keep the same postings as before. Let them know a real debate is next week.

Sustain Arguments Throughout a Round

Run a couple real debates. For logistics, if you don’t have enough rooms have non-debating students flow and judge. Provide them a ballot. Provide coaching points. Don’t assign new pairings after this class, because many will not have gone NEG yet and need that opportunity.

Coaching Points:

  • Balancing offensive and mitigating arguments
  • Concision and organization in micro-refutation
  • Compelling thesis supported by a macro-refutation position

Assign a NEG “brief” on one of the AFF cases. AFFs are required to share their cases.

Choose the Right Arguments, Drop the Wrong Ones

Flip sides or however you’re letting people who were AFF the week before try their hand at NEG. And vice versa. Use points from the book to help them improve and think through are they choosing the right arguments.

Coaching Points:

  • Balancing offensive and mitigating arguments
  • Concision and organization in micro-refutation
  • Compelling thesis supported by a macro-refutation position

Provide NEW postings for a two-week tournament. Require case sharing, but also allow teams to improve their cases.


Run the mini debate tournament. BEST if you can do this on a Saturday with community judges. Make sure judges provide verbal feedback after the rounds, along with ballots. These rounds will be messy.

Coaching Points:

  • Respecting feedback: audiences heard what they heard
  • Loving the audience
  • Avoiding sophistry

Assign another NEG brief and an AFF backup brief.

Adaptive Debate (like real life)

Surprise students with a parli debate! Put aside the research and run a parli resolution fair to both sides on a topic everyone will know (e.g. “Brutus was right that Caesar had to die”) and relies on general knowledge of history.

Coaching Points:

  • Building a sensible case on the fly
  • Establishing NEG thesis
  • Refuting the arguments, not the person

Tell folks who is going to be in the final exhibition debate.

Exhibition Debate

Invite parents to see the progress their students made. Have the students who aren’t debating in finals become the judges, each one with a ballot that counts.

Coaching Points: n/a

Point students to competitive opportunities, such as Stoa, NCFCA, NSDA, teen court, moot court, mock trial, or other local clubs.

Additional Helps

Contact us if you need any help! We answer loads of questions, and frequently blog out our answers.

We answer loads of questions, and frequently blog out our answers. Emily also consults and coaches this age group online at an hourly rate of $45.

You will also find many aids below in some of our other free resources.

Isaiah McPeak

Isaiah McPeak

(author of this curriculum)

Emily Rose

Emily Rose

Speech and Debate Coach
(specializes in training 5th-10th grades in speech and debate)