The Basics

Students involved in Congressional Debate follow the same procedures as senators and representatives in Washington and Springfield. They write legislation, work in committees, and debate their own bills and resolutions. Trained judges and student votes are tabulated to award individual and team trophies for the top speakers.

Legislation is classified in three areas: Foreign Affairs, Economics, and Public Welfare. Each school submits legislation in an assigned area and schools vote to choose the legislation to be debated for the next tournament. Students have about one month to prepare research; a total of nine bills are debated at each tournament.

The Beginning

The tournament is organized into chambers of about twenty students each from schools across the Chicagoland area. Students choose the order of debate, elect their own presiding officers, and conduct their debate.

The Format

Students debate for three sessions at each tournament. Students alternate giving speeches for and against pieces of legislation, and vote on each bill or resolution at the end of the debate. Student votes and judge scores are used to determine the top three speakers and best presiding officer in each chamber.

The Speaking

Congressional debaters alternate delivering three-minute speeches that are persuasive, contain evidence with citations that support their points, and refute previous speakers. A two-minute question and answer period follows each speech so that speakers must have an understanding the issue thoroughly and are able to think on their feet. They are scored by trained judges on content and style.

The Results

One of the most rewarding outcomes of ICDA are the relationships that develop between the students from different teams. While they are in competition with each other, as in many political venues, this form of debate requires students to maintain positive relationships even when they disagree. Not only do students learn about important issues, the structure of debate, and how to develop arguments; they also learn how to negotiate and cooperate.

ICDA hosts five invitational tournaments, including a fall Novice Training Workshop, and a State Competition every year. The fifth competition of the year is an approved Tournament of Champions bid tournament.

Contact Tim Waters (, ICDA President, to learn about the advantages for your students and school and to become a member of the Illinois Congressional Debate Association.