The Melvin B. Tolson/Denzel Washington Forensics Society competes in a variety of events. They range from debate to public speaking to interpretation to limited preparation events. Although the team is known around campus as "the debate team," the team does far more than debate; they are speakers and actors as well.
There are two general categories of events -- debate and individual events. Although there are more extant forms of debate, “The Great Debaters” focus on three different forms, which are described on the next page. The Tolson/Washington Forensics Society also participates in eleven different types of individual events; these are aggregated into subcategories: interpretation, public address, and limited preparation.
Interpretation of Literature allows students to perform pieces of literature. Although students take on characters from the literature, there are no costumes, makeup, or sets, and the students must read from a manuscript in a small, black binder, which distinguishes this art form from acting.
Prose Interpretation: An original work or selections of prose material of literary merit which may be drawn from more than one source. The focus of this event is on the development of the narrative/story.
Dramatic Duo: Extracted text from one or more texts of literary merit; humorous or serious, involving the portrayal of two or more characters presented by two individuals. The material may be drawn from any genre of literature. Presentation is from the manuscript and the focus should be off-stage and not to each other.
Programmed Oral Interpretation: A program of thematically-linked selections of literary merit, chosen from two or three recognized genres of competitive interpretation (prose/poetry/drama). The primary focus of this event is the development of the theme through the use of narrative/story, language, and/or characterization.
Drama Interpretation: Excerpts that represent one or more characters from a play or plays of literary merit. The focus of this event is on the development of characterization. This material may be drawn from stage, screen, or radio.
Poetry Interpretation: selection or selections of poetry of literary merit, which may be drawn from more than one source. A primary focus of this event is the development of language. Play cuttings and prose works are prohibited.
Events which are written in advance and memorized. These events focus on informing or persuading an audience about various subjects of the students’ choosing. The focus of the speeches is topic development, argument development, use of research, and style of delivery.
Persuasive Speaking: An original speech by the student to inspire, reinforce, or change the beliefs, attitudes, values, or actions of the audience. Audio-visual aids may or may not be used to supplement and reinforce the message. Multiple sources should be used and cited in the development of the speech.
Informative Speaking: An original, factual speech by the student on a realistic subject to fulfill the general aim of informing the audience. Audio-visual aids may or may not be used to supplement and reinforce the message. Multiple sources should be used and cited in the development of the speech.
After Dinner Speaking: An original, humorous speech by the student, designed to exhibit sound speech composition, thematic coherence, direct communicative public speaking skills, and good taste. The speech should not resemble a night club act, an impersonation, or comic dialogue. Audio-visual aids may or may not be used to supplement and reinforce the message.
Communication Analysis: An original speech by the student designed to offer an explanation and/or evaluation of a communication event such as a speech, speaker, movement, poem, poster, film, campaign, etc. through the use of rhetorical principles. Audio-visual aids may or may not be used to supplement and reinforce the message.
Events that give students a short amount of time to create a speech. Evidence and examples are then used to back their arguments.
Impromptu Speaking: An impromptu speech, substantive in nature, with topic selections varied by round and by section. Topics are derived from quotations. Students have a total of seven minutes for both preparation and speaking
Extemporaneous Speaking: Contestants are given three topics in the general area of current events. Students are given 30 minutes to prepare a seven minute speech that is the original work of the student on only one of the three given topics. Sources should be thoroughly referenced and cited.
The various forms of debate target different skills. Debate is one of the few activities which requires, as well as, enhances critical thinking, presentation, reading, team-building, interpersonal relations, academic performance, and test scores. As Melvin B. Tolson wrote in 1935, “A brain without a voice is as bad as a voice without a brain.”
National Forensic Association Lincoln-Douglas Debate: A one-on-one, persuasive policy debate on traditional stock issues. It is a communication event, which means the philosophy of the activity is consistent with that which governs other individual events. Competitors in NFA LD are evaluated on their analysis, use of evidence, and ability to effectively and persuasively organize, deliver, and refute arguments.
National Parliamentary Debate Association Debate: The National Parliamentary Debate Association encourages extemporaneous two-on-two debate. The styles of debate vary across the country—from traditional public-centered debate to more policy-oriented debate—but the NPDA, no matter where it is practiced, shares a common belief: students need to be prepared to debate about a variety of different kinds of topics. Parliamentary debate fosters more engaged, and more knowledgeable citizens.
International Public Debate Association Debate: The International Public Debate Association’s central focus is to promote a debate format that emphasizes public speaking and real-world persuasion skills over the predominate use of evidence and speed.