How to Flow in Debate
Flowing is simply an organized way of taking notes. The process has a fairly steep learning curve and may feel strange at first, but with nearly every top debater flowing in a similar fashion, it is definitely a skill worth fostering. Once you get the hang of it, you will notice it is a lot easier to track what’s happening in the round, what’s being refuted, and overall who is actually winning the debate. So here, we will teach you the basics of how to flow in debate, and some tricks that may help you along the way.
What you’ll need to flow a debate round
- 2 pieces of paper (legal size is preferred by most debaters, but printer paper will work)
- 2 different colored pens
Let the flowing begin
Start by creating 8 vertical columns on each sheet of paper. Some prefer to do this by physically folding the paper, others simply draw the lines. As long as it looks similar to what you see below, you’ll be just fine.
Next, in the top left corner, label one sheet “Aff” and the other “Neg.” These should be written in different colors.
Everything above should be done prior to the beginning of the round
Set aside the Neg sheet and bring the paper labeled “Aff” directly in front of you. Everything that this first speaker (we’ll call him Brian) is going to say will be “flowed” in the first column with the first pen color. Brian starts his speech by offering a couple definitions.
“The definition of justify will be to show, or prove, to be right or reasonable.”
I would write “Justify: prove to be right or reasonable”
Tip: You don’t need to be exact as you flow. Listen to a sentence or two and summarize what the speaker said.
He continues (hypothetically)… “My first contention is that college is too expensive. New York Times in 2015 reports that student debt has topped $1 Trillion and continues to grow. Not only that, but most of them don’t even stay in the major they sacrificed so much money for.”
At this point your flow should look similar to this.
There are a couple of things you should notice about my flow. The first is that I used bullet points to separate the key parts of the argument. This helps with organization as the sub arguments are visibly divided. You’ll also noticed how I shortened and abbreviated as many words as I possibly could. This is something debaters like to call “short-hand.” As you practice you will naturally develop your own style of shortening and abbreviated different words. It’s important to note that everything the affirmative says will be flowed in one color and everything the negative says will be flowed in an entirely separate color.
Brian is finally done with his speech. Meaning its the negative’s turn to speak. Katie gets up and begins reading. All of the arguments she makes regarding her case will be flowed in the first column of the “Neg” sheet with your second pen color. You will do exactly what you did for Brian’s speech, but in a different color and on a separate sheet of paper. Now lets assume she has an extra minute at the end of her case and begins to attack the affirmative arguments. She says, “We disagree with the negative’s definition of justify. We think it should be defined the following way from Merriam Webster Dictionary, ‘to show to have had a sufficient legal reason.’ Since the affirmative team doesn’t give us a source to back themselves up you must prefer ours.”
At this point you should switch over to your “Aff” flow and in the second column next to the definition write her argument. Remember to hang on to that same color of pen as everything she says will be in that color regardless of which paper you’re working on.
I personally like to draw arrows or lines from the argument to show the direct clash and refutation (as seen above). You can see below how this trend continues through each speech.
The circles you see above indicate the opponent’s failure in attacking the contention at all. In debate lingo this is known as dropping the argument. Placing circles there helps you as the judge or competitor see what was refuted and what wasn’t. You’ll also notice a column labelled “Voters.” These are the major reasons presented in the final speeches to either affirm or negate the resolution. Some like flowing with this column while others prefer to keep the arguments in their proper place on the flow.
Practice makes perfect! Use these drills to improve your level and understanding of flowing.
Flow online debate rounds
One of the best ways to increase your flowing skills is by finding recorded rounds online, watching, and practicing as if you were actually judging the round.
Get out the deck of cards
Have either your coach or a teammate read off a number of playing cards as if they were arguments. For example I would read, “Contention one is the 8 of clubs. Supporting arguments of this point are the king of diamonds and the queen of hearts… On the negative side of the flow the answer to their first contention is the ace of spades and the 3 of hearts.” Have the person reading the cards line them up on the table in front of them as if they were flowing to see if you jotted down all the arguments. This drill will help grow the speed and accuracy of your flowing.
Flow your classes
As the teacher is giving a lecture try out your enhanced note taking skills. Flow in a column incorporating as many symbols and abbreviations as possible. This is a great way to improve your short hand and hopefully your grades as well.
Whether you’re in Public Forum, Lincoln Douglas, Policy, or even Spar you’re going to need great flowing skills. Don’t get discouraged if at first you’re missing arguments, but remember that flowing can make or break a debater. Practice hard and flow on!
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