University of Wisconsin–Madison


Professor Jenell Johnson (Communication Arts 262)

Assignment 1: Civil Dialogue

Assignment Objectives

  • To identify and construct extemporaneous cogent arguments
  • To employ formal and informal forms of evidence
  • To engage in a dialogue on a relevant political controversy with other classmates
  • To sharpen extemporaneous oral communication skills in preparation for the debate


Based on the work of Boal and Plato, John Genette created an interactive dialogue model where participants respond to statements and situate themselves on a continuum of strongly agree to strongly disagree. Once situated, participants engage in a dialogue with each other by providing arguments for their position, asking questions of others’ positions, and listening.


The Procedure

This is largely an extemporaneous assignment, which means that you will not need to do extensive preparation to engage in the civil dialogue. The dialogues will all pertain to social or political controversies about which an average citizen will already have some basic knowledge and opinion.

On dialogue day, the group will participate in a dialogue about a statement read by your TA. You will come to the front of the classroom and locate yourself on the continuum (strongly agree, somewhat agree, undecided, neutral, somewhat disagree, strongly disagree). Once you are seated at the front, you will each begin with an opening argument of about 1-2 minutes in length that defends the position you have taken in relation to the statement. Ideally, you will be defending what you actually believe, but if you have ended up with a position you don’t fully believe in, please defend it to the best of your ability.

You will then each ask a question of one of the other speakers, and each speaker should answer one question from another speaker. You may ask and answer more than one question.

The rest of you will be audience members. After the first round of questions and answers, audience members should also ask questions, but only speakers in the dialogue should provide answers and arguments. After audience members ask questions, each speaker will offer a 1-2 minute closing statement indicating her/his position on the statement at the conclusion of the dialogue (note: it may change).

While this assignment is not graded per se, it constitutes a significant part your participation grade in section and your experience forms the foundation for the second paper.


Assignment 2: Final Debates (15% of final grade)

Assignment Objectives

  • to demonstrate your grasp of theories of argument
  • to apply these principles by advancing arguments related to your debate proposition
  • to demonstrate argumentative flexibility and rebuttal skills
  • to demonstrate public speaking and extemporaneous delivery skills

You will spend the final weeks of the semester participating in researched, prepared final debates. These debates will give you the opportunity to put into practice nearly all of the concepts, theories, and skills we have discussed throughout the semester. This handout provides an overview of the final debate assignment and the annotated bibliography. We’ll offer more detail in lecture and in section, but if you have any questions at any point between now and the end of the term, please ask one of us. You will have a chance to practice the debate format in the middle of the semester on a proposition chosen by your TA. You will keep the same groups for the final debate, but may change up the teams if you’d like. It is up to you  whether you’d like to use a competitive or collaborative frame for this debate: in other words, if competitive, teams should not share information. If collaborative, it is fine to share information with one another, with the goal of reaching some kind of consensus.



Each section will be divided by the instructor into three groups of six (groups may vary in size slightly depending on section enrollment). Lecture time in the last three weeks is set aside for the debates (the specific schedule and location for each debate day will be announced and posted by your TA). Keep track of when and where your section’s debates will be taking place. Once assigned into groups, each group must subdivide itself into affirmative and negative teams, which will argue for or against the debate proposition. If there is an odd number of people in your group, then the extra person should be placed on the affirmative team, since the affirmative team has the burden of proof.


Debate Structure

Each day’s debate will consist of oral presentations and a question-and-answer session. The format is as follows: The first debater on the affirmative team will deliver a 5-minute oral presentation; the first debater on the negative team will deliver a 4-minute oral presentation; each subsequent debater will deliver a 4 minute oral presentation, alternating between affirmative and negative. Again, if you happen to be a group of 5, you will have three members on the affirmative team.

It is crucial to stay within the time limit. The oral presentations should be delivered semi-extemporaneously. This means that the presentations should be a combination of prepared material and flexible structure. That is, you should be flexible enough in your presentation so that you can respond to what others have said (with the exception of the first speaker), but you should prepare your arguments so that you are not speaking solely off the cuff.  In other words, you should prepare a presentation, but you may want to place greater or lesser emphasis on some points depending on the flow of the debate. Ideally, you will prepare more arguments than you plan to use in the debate, and then select the arguments that seem most important based on the other team’s arguments. When you are not speaking, you should be paying careful attention and taking notes so that you can advise team members. While it is OK to consult with each other, please be very quiet while the other group is speaking so as not to distract them. And, of course, if you’re not paying attention to the other team, it will be very difficult to rebut their arguments.

And rebutting is, of course, what we’re after. You should aim for as much clash as possible during the debate—this is not meant to be a series of six small speeches, but an organic, dialectical conversation. You are talking to one another, not at your classmates.


Working with Your Team and Group Members

Once you’ve selected a debate topic and proposition and divided yourselves into affirmative and negative teams, you will work with your team members to develop an overall strategy or case, plan the first speaker’s introduction and delegate specific arguments to team members. Your planning will differ slightly from affirmative to negative. As the affirmative team, you’ll need to frame the situation and the case for adopting the debate proposition. You’ll want to anticipate potential objections from the negative team, but in important respects, you’ll be interested in establishing an agenda for the in-class debate. As the negative team, your preparation will focus more on rebutting likely arguments by the affirmative team. Both teams will need to prepare thoroughly in order to anticipate questions and/or objections from the other team and from the audience. Be sure that everyone argues—that is, that no one offers only background or explanations—and that everyone’s contribution is roughly equal.



You will receive an individual grade for the in-class debates that will constitute your final debate grade. No group grades will be assigned.  However, your individual grade will depend on working well as a group in some respects.  For instance, if your strategy is not well developed, if your team goes off-proposition, if you’re not meeting the other team’s arguments, or if your case has glaring weaknesses, or if you’re not prepared for the question and answer session, this will almost certainly impact your individual contribution. 

Your oral grade will be graded on the strength of your arguments. Having said this, there is a minimum delivery threshold that you’ll need to meet to do well in these debates. If your delivery is so poor that no one can understand your arguments or if your delivery distracts completely from your arguments, then no one (including your TA) will be able to judge their strength. We’ll discuss strategies for delivery in section and in lecture, but if you have concerns about your speaking skills, please come and see one of us.


The Proposition

Proposition due during section 3/30 and 3/31. Work with your debate team to develop a specific proposition. You first should choose a general topic of some significance and then a specific proposition that is both narrow in scope and fair to both teams in terms of research and argument preparation. For example, a debate proposition that requires intricate knowledge of state and federal tax codes goes beyond the scope of this assignment and will likely result in a poor in-class debate.  A debate proposition that seeks to censor hip-hop lyrics will result in a pretty easy rebuttal from the opposing team.

* UW-Madison should financially compensate its athletes for their labor. 

* The State of Wisconsin should legalize prostitution.

Note that these propositions identify both actors and a specific action, and that each proposition seeks to change, in some way, the existing state of affairs.

Work with your group members to refine the debate proposition, and once finalized, make sure that both teams are arguing the specific proposition as it has been laid out.  You will be asked to put your team’s proposition in writing, which must be approved by your TA.


Annotated bibliography

To prepare for the final debate, you will conduct background research on the proposition topic, and will prepare an annotated bibliography of at least 8 credible sources, 4 of which must be scholarly. An annotated bibliography is a list of citations to books, articles, and documents. Each citation is followed by an annotation: a brief descriptive and evaluative paragraph (roughly 75 – 100 words). The purpose of the annotation is to critically assess the relevance, accuracy, and quality of the sources cited.


How Do I Do This?

First, locate and record citations to books, periodicals, and documents that may contain useful information and ideas on your topic. Briefly examine and review the actual items.

Cite the book, article, or document using the appropriate style, either MLA or another style you are familiar with. Entries must use a consistent, formal citation style. If you are not familiar with formal citation style, consult

Write a concise annotation that summarizes the central theme or argument of the source. Include one or more sentences that (a) evaluate the authority or background of the author and/or source, (b) describe the content of the source, and (c) say a bit about why it might be useful.


Sample Entries

Scholarly. Crothers, Lane (Austin). Rage on the Right: The American Militia Movement from Ruby Ridge to Homeland Security. Oxford: Roman & Littlefield, 2003.

This book, published in an academic series that explores social movements, offers a broad overview of militia movements in the United States. It is written by Lane (Austin) Crothers, a professor of Politics & Government at Illinois State University, who has published on a number of political topics (although this seems to be his only work on the militia movement). Rage on the Right investigates the history and ideology of the militia movement, and will help me to determine whether the media’s classification of the protestors as “militia” is accurate, and if so, whether comparisons may be drawn with other historical examples like Ruby Ridge. 


Non-scholarly. Johnson, Kirk, and Jack Healy. “Protestors in Oregon Seek to End Policy That Shaped the West.” New York Times, January 6, 2016.

This article, published in the New York Times, overs first-hand commentary of the standoff in Oregon by participants. The Times is the “paper of record” and is well known as one of the most credible newspapers in the United States. Offering a number of interviews with protestors in Oregon as well as residents of the small community in which the refuge is located, this article will help me to understand what’s at stake for the people involved in this protest.



50% on correctness of citation style, 50% on quality and thoroughness of annotations.

Note: while it’s probably pretty obvious, it nonetheless needs to be said: you must read the sources before citing them.