Big Questions Debate

Big Questions is a debate format supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. High school and middle school students will grapple with complex worldview questions as they debate both sides of the 2018-2019 resolution,

Resolved: Humans are primarily driven by self-interest.

Programs that do Big Questions debates are eligible to receive thousands of dollars per event. These debates can be held at a tournament, with your team, or in your classroom. The NSDA has infused close to 1.5 million dollars into speech and debate programs since 2016. Please review the information below for updates to Year 3.

Learn the Format

Funding spots for 2018-2019 are now full. We encourage you to continue to hold events and use our free resources. Thank you for another great year!

Explore Event Resources

2018-2019 Updates

  • Schools, booster clubs, or non-profit organizations can earn a maximum of $7,500 per institution.
  • National Qualifying tournaments are not eligible for grant funding
  • Each event will earn $400 for the first 15 students. If your event has one participant school, each additional student over the 15 minimum will earn your program $10. If your event has two or more schools competing, each additional student will earn your program $20.
  • The full grant amount will be awarded following the completion of the reporting requirements; no upfront installments will be given.
  • Applications will no longer be accepted on a first come, first serve basis. If your application is not immediately accepted, we encourage you to host your event and turn in the reporting information to be put on a waitlist to receive funding if your application status changes.
  • Applications for Year 3 funding opened on June 1, 2018.
  • Applications must be submitted at least 6 weeks prior to the start of the event.
  • Applicants should carefully consider their estimated number of participants before applying. For budgetary reasons, we will not award amounts above the amount estimated on the application.

Grant Requirements

  • Rounds must follow the Big Questions format described in the Big Questions Format Manual
  • Minimum number of rounds: 3
  • Due to the demand for the Big Questions Grant, only NSDA members will be eligible to receive funding. If you are currently a non-member school, you can apply part of your Big Questions grant to cover the cost of membership!
  • High school and middle school students are eligible.
  • Minimum student participants: 15
    • A partnership counts as 2 students
    • Only students who compete in 3 rounds count as participants

Additional Opportunities

  • Elimination rounds are encouraged, but not required.
  • Your own school’s students qualify under the grant and may be counted toward your total number of student participants.
  • You are encouraged to charge an entry fee to increase the likelihood that students have thoroughly prepared for the event and as an additional way of raising money.
  • You may apply to host multiple events. Each event must have at least 50% new participants.
  • You do not need to be a member of the NSDA to apply. To be eligible, schools must be in the United States.
  • The entire grant award will be mailed to your school after the receipt of your reporting materials.
  • The amount of the award will depend on the number of students that compete. 15 students will earn you $400. Each additional participants over the initial 15 earns you an additional $10 if you have one school compete, or $20 if there are two or more schools participating.
  • There is a $7,500 award cap per school or organization. 
  • National Qualifying tournaments are not eligible for grant funding
  • You are required to purchase a minimum of three Big Questions plaques for your event. These cost $10 + shipping. These will automatically be mailed to your school before your event, and you may order more if you choose.
  • The NSDA reserves the right to bill back schools for the shipping and cost of awards if the event is canceled.

Judge Training

All judges should be provided access to the NSDA’s Big Questions judge training. To access:

  • Create an account
  • Navigate to CONNECT
  • Click the red “Join” button
  • Find the Big Questions Judge Training course under the “Learn” tab

Print Ballots and Judge Primers

  • The tournament will use Big Questions ballots designed by the NSDA.
  • The tournament will print a copy of the judge primer for each judge to keep. The judge primer will be distributed before the start of round one.


  • When you apply for an event, you will select the number of plaques you wish to purchase from the NSDA Trophy Shop.
  • At minimum, the tournament will provide the top three students in the division with a Big Questions plaque purchased from the NSDA Trophy Shop. The cost will be $10 per award + $4 per award shipping. The amount owed for awards will be automatically pulled from the final grant payment.
  • If you are purchasing awards for all of your tournament events through the NSDA Trophy Shop, please contact Katie Hines for special pricing options.


Topicality Requirements

  • The tournament must have a staff member checking in Big Questions ballots. They must check that all parts of the ballot are filled out properly, as well as receive verbal confirmation from each judge that the winning debater(s) did not run any non-topical positions.
  • If a judge votes for a side that did not run a topical position, the following will occur:
    • The winning debater(s) on the judge’s ballot will be forfeited by tab.
    • The judge will be permanently removed from the pool, forfeit their payment (if hired by the tournament), or the school that provided the judge will be fined.

Survey Completion

  • The tournament will have every student participant and judge in the Big Questions division fill out the required survey after at least three rounds are completed. The tournament will request any audience members who watched at least one Big Questions round to take the survey as well.
  • Please have your participants fill out the online survey if possible. Paper copies are available to participants without access to the online survey.
  • The survey is about 15 short questions and should take no more than 10 minutes to complete.

All materials need to be submitted within one week after the final day of your Big Questions event. Missing this deadline will result in forfeiture of your grant award.

1. Survey data

Judges, students, and audience members must complete the online survey. Any paper copies must be manually submitted online by the event host.

2. Reporting form

The reporting form allows us to determine how much you have earned in your second grant installment. The final question on the reporting form will ask you to submit the results within this excel spreadsheet.

2019 National Tournament Details


  • Students can only qualify to the National Tournament by being the top-placing student at their district’s Big Questions national qualifying event. No at-large invites will be given.
  • To host a Big Questions national qualifying event, districts must include Big Questions on the NSDA District Tournament Dates form due on November 1.
  • National Qualifying tournaments are not eligible for grant funding
  • Big Questions entries will not count toward a school’s district entry limits. District committees may choose to add a limit to the number of students that each school can bring in the division, but this will be separate from the district entry limits.
  • Non-members may compete at the district tournament in the Big Questions division; however, if a non-member qualifies for Nationals, the student and school will need to become members before registering for Nationals.
  • The district Big Questions division may be held in conjunction with the district tournament or as a stand-alone event on a separate date. The district event will meet the following requirements.
    • Minimum of 15 high school competitors
    • All students must compete as individuals
    • More than one school in attendance
    • The event must be organized through or with the permission of the District Chair.
    • The event will either a) follow the double elimination format of other district debate events or b) hold a minimum of 4 preliminary rounds, semifinals, and finals.
    • The top-placing student will not be eligible to compete in the Big Questions division at the Nation Tournament if they have qualified in a main event. A BQ qualifier may choose to attend the National Tournament in Big Questions over World Schools Debate.
    • If the Big Questions district event is held before the district’s main National Qualifying tournament, the top-placing student’s name may be withdrawn and replaced with an alternate’s if the top-placing student qualifies in another event.

Big Questions is designed to enhance students’ current debate experiences, opening their minds and encouraging them to engage in life discussion that may not align with their previously held beliefs. Whether or not students change their opinion, the rich experience of this debate event will advance their knowledge, comfort, and interest in learning more about the subject matter.

Special thanks to the John Templeton Foundation for providing the grant support to make this event possible.

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