(I never know what pictures to put on these posts. Thus begins random ass pictures for the debate blog.)
As a caveat, I’ve never started a debate club (as a student). I’ve started 3 though, as a coach/teacher, grown one, and maintained others.
In any case—this advice should be helpful for both adults who want to start a debate club (or who were somehow roped into it through the winds of life and bureaucracy) and for students who want to add to their college application one of the more impressive accomplishments for a high schooler (or hell, better yet a middle schooler).
Let’s break the advice down into some simple steps—
1. Put together a LEADERSHIP TEAM
The more people dedicated to the goal of starting a successful debate program, the more likely it is to succeed. If it’s just you, it’ll probably fail. Like small businesses, many school clubs either fall to pieces or limp along like a zombie, unable to thrive but unable to quite die either.
So: who else wants to start a debate club? Certainly, the students already debating at the school (if any). Definitely those who want to. Maybe, any teacher who’s done debate before. Likely an English or Comms teacher.
Roles to consider are club leaders (the students who are good already and can teach), club advisors (the adults who support the club but may or may not know anything about debate) and marketers (the people who make new kids show up).
Get 2-3 dedicated people on your team and the chances of success skyrocket compared to you just doing it alone.
2. Set the MOOD & make it FUN
Look, debate is fun. But it’s also about politics and policy, and can actually be pretty boring. Focus on making a warm and inviting culture where people are accepted, can hang out with friends, have a good time and maybe get pizza once in awhile. This will keep people coming back. Cause if they ain’t coming back, you don’t got a club anymore.
There’s two other common issues to avoid:
i. Make it accessible to beginners—not overly hard! For example, have some fun improv debates to start the class on the newest Netflix show or food items or school goings-on so that everyone can participate.
ii. Don’t bore the experts—better debaters may quickly get bored if they’re not being challenged, so make sure they’re stimulated. Pair them with other good debaters, have them teach and assist with lessons, and find them great teammates to compete with.
3. Go to TOURNAMENTS
Debate tournaments are great for the culture, club and skill development.
First, it gives everyone a goal to aim for, and that gives life and energy to the club.
Second, it provides feedback for how students are doing—are your practice sessions actually working well?
Last, this is how the expertise you’re developing gets recognized. Medals and trophies are always a nice incentive to keep going.
And hey—if there aren’t local tournaments to go to, you can always host your own!
4. Lesson Plan
Your debate classes or club sessions should probably have three key parts:
i. a warmup/introduction to set the mood
ii. skill development (work on cross-x, card cutting, etc) – a short lesson, then drills
iii. scrimmage – a practice debate, or part of one
5. Social Media
So many debate clubs start serious social media pages, they’re almost all super lame and almost nobody ever likes them.
So, start them if the team will have fun with it. Pass your phone around for people to record tiktoks. Post beautiful portraits of the debaters on Instagram (portrait mode dude). Start a discord if everyone’s on it anyway.
But don’t start social media just to do it, ya know?
This list could probably be a lot longer but—well, do the first 5 should get you started. Comment below what I missed!