Teams & Coaches (How to Select & Prepare a Team)

How to Select an Ethics Bowl Team

A team has a maximum of five students, and two alternates, from

Grades 9 to 12. The alternates may be used as substitutes if a team member is unable to participate.

There are different ways of selecting team members. Here are a few strategies:

  • Encourage teachers in the school to submit names.
  • Organize a mini-competition based on an ethical dilemma, which may be judged by teachers. This approach increases the visibility of the Ethics Bowl throughout the school.
  • Invite all the students in the school and have the students self-select.
  • Teacher leaders might approach social justice–minded students and encourage their participation.

It is preferable that the composition of the school team be multi-grade. This will increase the sustainability and development of the Ethics Bowl over time. Throughout the training, team alternates need to be fully engaged in the process.

How to Prepare an Ethics Bowl Team

Week 1: Team members individually select the five cases they are most interested in researching. They then research the five cases and prepare pertinent ideas, including determining their own position and other perspectives, for the next meeting.

Week 2: Share the highlights of the research on the cases, and select two cases for the following week. Make it clear that all team members will continue researching the cases.

Week 3: Go over the protocol of how a match is run. Based on the two cases selected in Week 2, run a mock match.

Week 4 until the Ethics Bowl: Repeat until all the cases have been done. Bring in teacher judges to ask questions and provide feedback.

One Week Prior to Regional Ethics Bowl: Hold a practice Ethics Bowl in the school, with staff and other students as an audience. Staff may serve as judges.

Help students understand the difference between a debate and an Ethics Bowl. In a debate, a team defends a fixed position against attack and points out problems in the opponents’ view. The Ethics Bowl, conversely, encourages students to collaborate, and to acknowledge and work constructively with the ideas and perspectives raised in discussion. The Ethics Bowl uses a dialectic approach.

Dialectic Approach

1. Thesis—initial position proposed

2. Antithesis—opposing perspectives considered to refine or critique position

3. Synthesis—new position developed, making good use of the best points in conversation

As the Ethics Bowl approaches, the team should meet frequently enough that everyone on the team (including the alternates) is familiar with each of the cases.

During a match, team members need to be aware of the tone of their voices, use respectful language, actively listen, and take notes. They also need to explore, respect, and acknowledge opposing and conflicting views in their presentation, but ultimately, present a unified voice on the ethical question or topic at hand.

It is critically important for students to understand that a team does not lose points during a match if they receive new information from the opposing team and change their point of view.

Finally, teams should focus their attention on the opposing team during presentations, and not make their case to the judges. The only time teams should focus on the judges is during the judges’ question period.

Working with Students to Improve Ethical Discussion Skills

When working with students to improve ethical discussion skills, consider the following:

  • Encourage students to help one another (both those on their team and those on the opposing team) to consider multiple points of view. This requires examining how different groups in society may be affected by their proposals, or how they may think and feel about their merits, given potentially different cultural or political assumptions.
  • Synthesizing a discussion well does not require compromising or creating a view that all students would necessarily accept. (This could be impossible.) Working toward agreement with sincerity often means accepting when new obstacles to agreement are found, or when deeper divisions in viewpoints are uncovered. The leading team is responsible for taking stock of what the conversation has shown and yielded: that could be information about agreement or what has been learned about the disagreement.
  • Collaboration does not mean that everything that is said has to be treated as equally valuable or relevant. Students are encouraged to be critical and thoughtful about what is truly important to the conversation. A team should be able to share that reasoning in their discussion, by saying why they feel a point matters a lot, or doesn’t, to what they feel most confident proposing in the end.