Young Debaters Program Hero


The Young Debaters Program aims to introduce debate and public speaking at a young age in an effort to increase the number of students, particularly of color, to grow interest in and pursue legal careers. The Young Debaters Program allows students to become more proficient in public speaking, evidence-based research, reading, and persuasive writing skills, and promotes reasoning as well as communication skills. Implementation of the Young Debaters Program provides an avenue for students to grow academically and socially. In addition, the lessons presented and the skills developed fall in line with the Common Core Standards. Students learn essential lawyering skills followed by an opportunity to showcase their skills through a debate competition focusing on a specific area of the law.


The Young Debaters Program is implemented in schools as a professional development for teachers who then take leadership, with support of the program developer, to present the lessons to the students. Based on the desire of the Principal, as well as the support of teachers within the school, strategies for implementing the program can vary by school. Schools have the option to select one of two program models, based on start and end timeframes – September to December or January/February to May/June.

The Young Debaters curriculum is presented to selected teachers through a training session held prior to the official start of the program. Curriculums are provided to teachers and each lesson is reviewed, including in-class handouts, research projects, and expectations of the students in the classroom as the program develops. The curriculum focuses on three core areas: Reading like a lawyer, Thinking like a lawyer, and Arguing like a lawyer. Within each area are several lessons that work to develop the necessary skills to be effective advocates including, but not limited to, counterargument development, persuasive writing and argument development, and developing assertive over aggressive approaches to debating.

Throughout the implementation of the Young Debaters Program, technical and counseling support is provided to schools through regular school visits and addition of supplemental materials, based on current events primarily. Teachers meet with students, on average, twice a week, either during regular class time, a prep period, or any designated time established by the teachers. The program runs for approximately 16-20 weeks, based on the designated program start date and competition date. Approximately three weeks prior to the competition date, a total of 30 students are selected and presented, by the program developer, with a focused area of the law that will be the topic for debate. During the three weeks leading into the competition, students work diligently in developing arguments based on their assigned position, with the support of the supervising teachers and the program developer. Debate topics have ranged from the First Amendment – Freedom of Speech to the Fourth Amendment – Miranda Rights and Search and Seizure.


The Young Debaters Program culminates in a debate competition scheduled to take place at a law school, generally held at City University of New York School of Law or St. John’s School of Law. Students have an opportunity to present their legal arguments before a panel of judges, which consist generally of practicing attorneys, law school students, high school students aspiring to pursue a legal career, or professionals passionate about education. Students present their arguments for a timed period, followed by questioning by the panel of judges. Students are scored based on knowledge of the law, ability to think and react critically to challenging questions, and the various dynamics that encompass successful public speaking, including but not limited to eye contact and posture. All participants receive a certificate of achievement for successful completion of the program; top debaters in each room receive an engraved trophy. Special guests are often invited.

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