The Middle School Public Debate Program
(MSPDP) is the world's largest program for class and contest debating in the middle grades. Designed to teach public speaking, critical thinking, listening, and debating to students in the middle grades, the MSPDP works with teachers, administrators, parents, students, and community members to form sustainable debating leagues and classroom oral literacy initiatives.
Currently, the MSPDP organizes league competition in California, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.. The program is a community service and educational enrichment initiative of Claremont McKenna College and the Claremont Colleges Debate Union. Joining the program is free , and all resources available on this site are free . More than 140 middle schools belong to the MSPDP network, and more schools are added every day. To learn more about becoming a partner school, please fill out the "More Information" form located here or on our "Contact" page.
The Middle School Public Debate Program is designed to foster debate participation in class and in competition. Students who debate in class may use any number of debate formats to facilitate research, discussion, and deliberation on important issues and events as well as topics derived from the curriculum. Students who debate in competition use a unique debate format designed for middle school students. The MSPDP format is the only competitive debate format designed for students in the middle grades in cooperation with middle school teachers. The format draws from multiple popular debate formats and educational standards to combine rigorous practice and preparation with accessibility and fun. To learn more about the MSPDP debate format, click here , or go to the Curriculum Center .
Why the MSPDP?
The MSPDP was developed to help teachers better share information with each other about teaching debate and public speaking. The MSPDP helps teachers to integrate class and contest debate programming in a sustainable, low-cost fashion. CCNDO staff members support partner schools by training teachers, providing curricular materials, and facilitating parent and community support. In addition, the CCNDO helps partner schools organize into leagues that facilitate low-cost competitive opportunities for students.
Most teachers in the MSPDP did not have prior experience teaching or coaching debate before joining the program. No MSPDP schools previously had debating programs. Nevertheless, many thousands of students have learned to speak and debate with confidence using MSPDP materials and methods.
Why Debate in the Middle Grades?
There is a serious need for debating and public speaking programs in the middle grades. Most middle schools do not have extracurricular programs, particularly academic extracurricular programs. Students rarely have a chance to interact with students from other middle schools, particularly students from other communities. Further, middle school may be the last chance to productively reach students who are classified as "at-risk" students. These students are usually tracked into programs for low-achievers by the time they reach high school, meaning that they are often not reached by high school speech and debate programs, which normally serve students who are able to spare the time for elective courses or extracurricular clubs. If we can reach students in the middle grades, they are able to get the benefits of debate training. This means that students will be able to use the benefits of debate training once they get to a high school and beyond.
Given the demonstrated importance of oral literacy for school and career success, it is particularly important to train young adolescent students in public speaking and debate. Young adolescents are quite talkative and argumentative, especially when compared to their counterparts in high schools. This makes debate a natural fit for the middle grades. Students build confidence by speaking in public on the important issues of the day, and debating creates a "safe" environment for students to develop these skills while receiving feedback and encouragement.
Debate participation also teaches research, organization, and argumentation. Students debate about a wide range of topics throughout the course of a year, and must research multiple sides of those topics. They prepare and organize notes for speeches while developing sophisticated critical thinking skills as they assess the relative merits of different arguments.
Often teachers remark that one challenge in teaching middle school students is not how to get them to debate, but how to get them to listen. Fortunately, debate does teach students how to be active and critical listeners. Listening skills are increasingly important in state or locality-mandated content standards. Listening skills are critical to success across the curriculum, because if students do not develop sophisticated listening skills, they will not be able to fully process and engage other aspects of instruction. In debates, students must make arguments and answer the arguments made by the other side. They must organize and structure speeches, and question opponents directly. This creates an incentive structure to build listening skills. Debate incorporates learning tools such as specialized note taking can help students to immediately focus on listening and critical engagement with an ongoing discussion.
Debate practice in the middle grades allows students to build skills they will need in high school and beyond. Debating is active and cooperative learning, understood as a process of involving students in an activity while they reflect critically about what it is they are doing. Active learning strategies help students to master content and develop thinking skills. This skill acquisition means that students are more likely to succeed in classes, particularly smaller and more challenging seminar-style classes, where students are normally called upon to discuss a wide variety of subjects on relatively short notice.