urban debate
041219 NAUDL Washington DC CD 1127 1

What We Do

What We Do At NAUDL

NAUDL’s Theory of Change is that, by teaching student students debate skills, and providing a supportive environment for them to practice and improve, we ignite their passion for learning and empower them to succeed in college and career.

How does NAUDL advance this mission? With formal relationships with 20 partner leagues, wherein we provide best practices and curricula resources, as well as training and events (like the Urban Debate National Championship), that promote the power of debate. NAUDL also facilitates the recruitment and onboarding of new leagues and develops opportunities for a growing national alumni network. It is leagues who, in turn, work with local school boards and districts to host an annual schedule of tournaments and other key initiatives. See more about our Signature Programs and Marquee Events below. 


The Setting

Each school year, students participating in policy debate concentrate on a single topic, or resolution. Debate teams do extensive research on the resolution and develop arguments on both sides of the topic (affirmative and negative) for competition. This process generates unique opportunities for hands-on learning that are often not available in their classrooms. It also challenges them to consider solutions to real-world problems and the alternatives for those solutions. Arguments are informed by articles and data from experts, but are developed through students’ voices and perspectives.

Debate tournaments contain multiple rounds, with students engaging with counterpoints from their opponents prior to receiving immediate feedback from judges on their arguments. This team preparation and competition improves reasoning, rapid analysis, conflict resolution, articulating a case and more. It also translates into lessons that can be applied in myriad classroom subjects and in pursuing and navigating new challenges in the future. Debate sets the groundwork for students to develop into informed citizens who are able to actively, and respectfully, engage in the public discourse that is vital for a healthy democracy. Something we need now more than ever.

Hear from our alumni on the impact of debate in their lives. 

Marquee Events & Platforms

Urban Debate National Championship (UDNC): NAUDL’s marquee event, and the pinnacle of the season for Network debaters, the UDNC welcomes two high school debate pairs from each partner league to compete and network for three or four action-packed days every spring. Usually hosted on a college campus (though, currently virtual), it provides many students a memorable and eye-opening experience.

I RESOLVE: “I RESOLVE” seeks to showcase the power of debate for a public audience while exploring some of the most pressing issues in our society.  Its value is in the perspective, voice and values of the next generation of leaders: high school debaters. The 90-minute programs are centered around student arguments and subsequent feedback, discussion, and Q&A via a panel of distinguished civic and community leaders. Presenters are joined by an audience of student peers, school district and league leaders, NAUDL and league donors, partners, and debate champions.

Debate Expo: The NAUDL Debate Expo is an opportunity for NAUDL to promote a flagship event centered around community and growth, and not just competition alone. As such, this unique event combines a round-robin competition with coach and student workshops and engagement sessions.

Signature Programs

White & Case NAUDL Alumni Fellows: The NAUDL Alumni Fellows internship is a scalable (virtual) workplace skills/mentorship program for qualified urban debate alums (at least two years of college completed). Projects engage fellows in multiple roles and provide an opportunity to lead an initiative, function or process with NAUDL or a league. NAUDL senior staff provided ongoing oversight, coaching and assessment. Additionally, group roundtables are hosted (via Zoom), featuring professional volunteers, in the widely- accepted Eight Competencies for Career-Readiness.

Teach Debate: Like many after-school programs, athletics and activities, once the school bell rings, teachers become coaches. Realizing that it needed to meet leagues and teachers “where they are” to meet success, NAUDL launched the Teach Debate online curriculum in 2019. Teach Debate hosts debate curriculum, lesson plans, toolkits, multi-media training modules, Core Files for each season and an interactive “community” platform for sharing activities among members.

Lessons in Democracy: Debate develops informed and discerning individuals who are vital for a healthy democracy. We strongly encourage all debaters to be active citizens, and to participate, in public discourse and offer a variety of resources around civil engagement.

Financial Literacy: The Financial Literacy Debate Series was created as way to leverage debate to provide students exposure to basic and complex financial concepts. The Financial Literacy series focuses on an important financial topic, e.g. home ownership vs. renting; completing a two-year college program before transferring four-year program or traditional employment vs. participating in the gig economy. Starting with a foundational orientation for students, the series is set-up across a number of workshops and working sessions, culminating in a final tournament. (Note: Financial Literacy debates are currently on hiatus.) 


Debater of the Year

The Debater of the Year award recognizes a debater who demonstrates commitment to debate, improvement in their academic performance and leadership in their school, urban debate league and community.




Coach of the Year

The Coach of the Year award recognizes that teachers who coach debate are essential to Urban Debate Leagues meeting their core mission: helping students to become more academically successful — and civically engaged — through the support and rigor of debate. This award honors that work.



Alumni Ambassadors 

Our Alumni Ambassador program gathers a prestigious and diverse group of dynamic and motivated leaders who are looking to give back and stay connected to the urban debate community.

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