Unlike a formal debate structure, in a u-shaped debate students arrange themselves along a continuum of opinions ranging from one polarized opinion to the opposite side.

"Instead of an adversarial debating format, this strategy encourages students to see the merits of all sides and to recast binary options as positions along a continuum. The goal is to encourage students to endorse positions provisionally while listening to others in an attempt to figure out the most defensible personal stance along a continuum of possibilities." – The Critical Thinking Consortium