Preparing For World Schools Debate: A Beginners Guide

World Schools Debate is a team event which combines both impromptu and prepared motions. In High School, you may have the opportunity to do it as your full-time event, but oftentimes debaters from Policy, LD, Congress, Public Forum and even speech events may find themselves on a World Schools team for the NSDA tournament. World Schools not only trains you in crucial skills which you can take back to your regular debate format, but is also much more similar to what you’ll do if you choose to pursue college debate (American Parliamentary and British Parliamentary Debate). In this article I’ll introduce the basic tips you’ll need to get started, then give more advanced information about how to be successful.

Round Format

A World Schools round has 4 speeches per team. The first three speeches are 8 minutes long and the last speech is 4 minutes long. There are different names people call the different speeches, but I will be referring to them as the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and reply speeches. Just like any other debate format, there is a Proposition and Opposition team. However, in World Schools, there is a slight change in speech order:

Proposition 1st Speech
Opposition 1st Speech
Proposition 2nd Speech
Opposition 2nd Speech
Proposition 3rd Speech
Opposition 3rd Speech
Opposition Reply
Proposition Reply

The 3rd speech and reply speech are given back-to back by opposition. This is referred to as the “Opp Block.”  There is no prep time within a World Schools round. Each speech follows directly after the last is finished. You may quietly communicate to your teammates while the other team is speaking, but this should be kept to a minimum and is often done through notes instead. 

Sample Motions

This house regrets the glorification of soldiers as heroes
This house believes that the cost of space exploration is justified
This house would not allow unvaccinated children to attend public schools
This house supports the televising of criminal trials
This house would negotiate with terrorists

Speech Roles

1st speech: The first speech begins with a rhetoric-heavy introduction. Depending on what kind of motion you have, you may need to provide a model or plan on how to implement the motion’s policy if you are Proposition. You should always provide “characterization,” or an analysis about what the problem of the motion looks like, why it is problematic, and how it affects people. Then disclose your “split”, the layout of which arguments will be covered in the first speech and which will be at the top of the second speech, if any. You can then go on to read the arguments of your case, taking a couple points of information along the way.

2nd speech: The second speech is all about rebuttal. Make sure to give the last argument of your case at the top if your case requires this. Then, provide rebuttal to your opponent’s case. World Schools is not as line-by-line heavy as other debate categories, so just make sure you’re responding to the most important general ideas of each argument.

3rd speech: There are several different ways you can go about a third speech. Some people like to follow the model of asking (usually) 3 questions which address the main clashes of the round, then addressing what each side has contributed to those clashes. Some third speakers prefer to elucidate their opponent’s “fatal flaws” or “big mistakes,” showing the judge where the other team is losing the round. In any case, you should make sure to continue to cover big clashes of the round and respond to rebuttal. It is also crucial to add at least some new analysis or examples to your own team’s case.

Reply: The reply is just like last speeches in PF or LD. It should cleanly tie up the big clashes of the round into voting issues the judge can understand. A popular way of doing this is the “principle practical” analysis. Many cases in World Schools make use of both principle and practical arguments, so showing the judge that you’ve won on both fronts is effective. As always, make sure to incorporate lots of one-liners and rhetoric.


There is no cross-ex or crossfire in World Schools. Instead, a speaker from the opposite team may stand up and request a point of information, or POI, from minutes 1:00-7:00 of the first three speeches. The first and last minutes are “protected time”–time in which POIs are not allowed–and the last speech is entirely protected. The speaker may accept or deny the POI, which should be kept to under 15 seconds. It is good form to accept at least 2 POIs per speech, but the number accepted is largely strategic and some may get away with only 1. 

Team/Speaker Composition

A World Schools team consists of a minimum of 3 and maximum of 5 people. Even though most teams will have 5, only 3 will speak in any given round. The other two can help prep, but will sit out during speaking. The 3 speakers will often switch out each round; this way everyone gets a chance to speak. However, it is often strategic to have team members specialize in certain speeches. For instance, Public Forum and Policy debaters are often very good at 2nd speeches because it is almost entirely line-by-line rebuttal. Lincoln Douglas and Congress debaters can be great at giving the 1st and the reply because it involves big picture ideas and summation. The 3rd speech is often formatted by addressing “fatal flaws” committed by the other side, continuing to rebut and pull through (AND ADD) information from previous speeches (3rd speeches should not add entirely new arguments, but should absolutely endeavor to add new information about them; otherwise they are useless and redundant), and centering the round on a few key questions or clashes. Since there are 4 speeches and 3 team members, one person will have to give 2 speeches per round–the 3rd speaker is not allowed to give the reply, so it must be either the first or second speaker.

Impromptu versus Prepared Debates

At most World Schools tournaments, you will face both impromptu and prepared debates. Prepared debates are just like what you’re used to in other debate events; you have a couple months to write and research a case (though “cards” aren’t really a thing in WS), do practice rounds, and write blocks. Impromptu round motions are released at the tournament one hour before the round, during which the team is allowed to prep and write their cases. The team must not use the internet or any research tools (except in some cases an encyclopedia (check the rules of your tournament (an encyclopedia can be more useful than you might expect))). Because of this, the motions will be about general topics that most people off the street could form an opinion on. Form a strategy for time management early on. Allot your team, for instance, 5 minutes of silent brainstorming, 20 minutes of discussion and choosing arguments, then allow the first speaker to go off on their own to write the case while the rest of the team discusses strategy, rebuttal, and rhetoric.

Tips and Tricks

The most competent/experienced member of the team should give the Reply

This is for several reasons. First, the reply speaker will have also given either the first or the second speech as well. Both of these are crucial speeches. If your opening case is fumbled by the first speaker, there’s not much the rest of the team can do. The second speaker is tasked with the rebuttal to the opposite team–also a crucial task. If the motion is prepared, the least experienced member of the team should give the first speech as it is pretty much just reading the case. The most experienced will then give the 2nd and reply. If the motion is impromptu, the most experienced can give either the first or second speeches as well as the reply. The second reason why this is important is because, just like in any other debate event, a lot of judges wait for the last speech to sum up the most important issues of the round cleanly, so you need a competent reply speaker in every round.

Catch people off guard with POIs

One of the most common mistakes in World Schools is speakers being surprised by a sudden POI, stopping in the middle of a sentence, and completely losing their flow. Instead, always finish at least the sentence you’re on, and preferably the larger point you’re on. Hold up your finger to the person asking a POI to signal them to wait while you do. If you want to be particularly skilled, make them wait much longer than they would be expecting until you finish a paragraph or two more, then immediately turn to them and say something like, “go.” This will catch them off guard and they’ll almost certainly stumble or even forget what they were going to ask in the first place.

Come prepared with rhetoric and one liners

World schools is different than every other debate category in that it is built on rhetoric. You should imagine every speech you give like a political campaign of sorts. The substance is certainly important, but the language you use is paramount as well. In one round at Nationals about the commercialization of feminism, my team made ample use of the quote “while we all worry about the glass ceiling, there are millions of women standing in the basement – and the basement is flooding.” These one-liners should be incorporated throughout your speeches, but something called a “team line” is also key. A team line is a one-liner which encapsulates the thrust of your argument that each speaker should make use of at least once. Each speaker “passes the line down the table.” The exact wording can be changed up a little bit, but think of it like a thesis statement that you’re trying to hammer into the judges mind. Also key in World Schools is the way you speak. Robotic line-by-line is not going to cut it. You should speak with passion and emphasis, just like the political speeches mentioned earlier. Make use of studying great rhetoricians like Martin Luther King, or watch videos of your favorite politicians with your team. This is also a reason why you may find declamation, original oratory, or other speechies on a World Schools team.

Put your risky/strange/different arguments in the second speech

The “split” is a strategy used by most teams to break up arguments between the first and second speeches. A World Schools case will most often have either two or three arguments. If you can’t fit all of that into the first speech, one argument will be given at the top of the second speech. The first speaker will disclose this at the top of their case in their roadmap (side note: every World Schools case has to start with a flowery, rhetoric-heavy intro. Then give your roadmap, disclose the split, then give your arguments). The split can and should be used strategically. Since the second speech is the main thrust of rebuttal, the opposing side will use the majority of their rebuttal time responding to whatever is in their opponent’s first speech. The third speaker can also engage in rebuttal, but they have other jobs to do which take up much of their time. So, out of your (usually) three arguments, choose the one which you are most worried about, think is unique or substantially different than the first two, or one you wish to sneak by the opposition to go in the second speech. That way, it will escape the second speaker and force the third speaker to address it.

Form a team of specialists

We’ve already discussed how different forms of debate and even speech events can contribute valuable skills to a World Schools team. However, it’s also important to have a wide ranging knowledge base for impromptu motions. Impromptu motions can cover practically anything, from politics to medicine, international relations, social movements, technology, law, and more. If you’re able to take part in forming the team, make sure you take this into account when choosing members. If not, get to work right away identifying who is specializing in what. For instance: Team member A starts researching current geopolitics. B researches American politics, C gets up to date on medical news, D takes note of any culture war issues, and E looks into technological updates like A.I. or Tesla cars. Don’t stop until the date of the tournament. Impromptu motions can be about general societal talking points like feminism, but can also make use of very recent news headlines. My team was saved by the specialization numerous times. In one round, one of my teammates had watched a documentary about the subject the night before. 

Practice with old WSDC or British Parliamentary Debate motions

British Parliamentary debate is remarkably similar to World Schools, but it has only impromptu motions. Given the characterization of impromptu motions that we discussed earlier, there are only so many topics that can be written. After having competed in and coached both World Schools and British Parliamentary for about 6 years now, believe me: motions get recycled time and time again. Should we get rid of juries? Should people be able to choose to get vaccines? Should marginalized groups insulate themselves, like in all-LGBTQ+ Harvey Milk schools? These are just a handful of motions that I’ve seen resuscitated, reworded, and thrown into numerous tournaments. So, take a look at the lists of motions from previous World Schools and BP tournaments with your team and become familiar with the arguments on both sides. Furthermore, take note of the core ideas of these motions. Once you know the core idea, you can apply the arguments to hundreds of disparate motions. For instance, “Should vaccination be mandatory?” is a specific motion, but the core idea is one of individual choice versus societal welfare. If you become knowledgeable of the justifications for both sides, you’re all set for motions on gun rights, taxes, etc. 

Paint a picture of two different worlds

Many World Schools motions will require your team to make policy prescriptions. For instance, “This house would fine individuals for not recycling.” Well, how would that work? How much would they be fined? Would this require some surveillance program to make sure people are recycling? Prop is tasked with answering questions like these at the top of their first speech in what is called a “model.” The model elaborates on the details of how they would enact such a policy and what it would look like in practice. The model creates two different realities, or “worlds.” The characterization of your world is key to impress the judge and should be carried throughout every speech, especially the reply. An argument on the above motion could be that the Proposition world is one in which people are now motivated to recycle. In the Opp world, throwing a soda can in the trash incurs no harm to oneself, so most people make no effort to reduce their waste. Now, less trash piles up in landfills and oceans and (insert big climate change impact here). This world analysis can work on other types of motions too. “This house regrets” motions ask you to imagine a world in which something we currently experience did not happen. It also requires you to imagine what might have happened in its place that would be more preferable–two different worlds.

Be aware of judging standards

If you approach a World Schools round like any other form of debate, you’ll likely lose some points on the ballot. This is because there are actually 3 different point categories that factor into each speech’s score: content, style, and strategy. Content is fairly obvious: do your arguments make sense? Are the impacts compelling? Do the impacts follow from the warrant or premise? Is rebuttal competent and effective at dispelling your opponent’s arguments? Style, however, actually makes up the same proportion of your score as content. This is why it is SO important to focus on your presentation–your rhetoric, vocal projection, cadence, and demeanor; even small things like hand gestures can factor into a good style score. To improve your style, take a look at recordings of WSDC finalists and see how they present their cases. Finally, strategy encompasses the decisions you make within the round. This can be how many POIs you take and where you take them, if you utilize a split and which argument you choose for the split, how you conduct your third and reply speeches, which clashes you choose to focus on, and more. The World Schools ballot advises judges to pay special attention to how the debaters understand which arguments are most important to the round and the proportional amount of attention they devote to those arguments in order to assign a high strategy score.

World schools is a daunting format for those who do solo events like Lincoln Douglas, debaters that have never done an impromptu motion, or anyone who hasn’t done debate at all before. However, it’s also one of the most rewarding events you can do. The friendships formed on a World Schools team are steadfast. The skills you’ll pick up like thinking on your feet and mastering rhetoric will improve how you debate in general. If you’ve suddenly found yourself on a World Schools team for the first time, don’t be scared! Learn from this experience and know that your team will always have your back.

Video Recommendations:

  • World Schools Format Introduction:
  • An NSDA Overview Of Motions:
  • WSDC 2017 Finals:

About The Author

Tia Speece competed in Lincoln Douglas debate for three years at Kenston High School. During her first year, she semi-finaled at the state competition. In her senior year, she made it to finals at States, qualified to the NSDA National competition, and became the first female public-schooled student to compete in and win the City Club debate. She also competed in World Schools debate at the NSDA National Tournament for three years. Tia has been an assistant coach of the National Czech Republic Debate Team and the primary coach of the Edinburgh Debates Union. She now privately coaches students and competes in British Parliamentary at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where she is studying philosophy.

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