Starting a New League

An enterprising middle school student named Maggie wrote to me about starting a new club at her school, and a new league in her city. This is what I wrote back.

Hi Maggie,

It's great to hear that you are forming a new debate team at PSA. It can be challenging at first to get a club formed, but I hope that you will find the process to be worth it. You're asking about two things. First, you want advice for starting a new team. That begins with recruitment. You might consider putting up posters around school and asking teachers to recommend students that might be good for the debate team. At your first club meeting, you'll want to tell students what to expect. Debate is fun, but it's also hard work. Good debaters do a lot of research on their arguments, and keep detailed notebooks for debate preparation. Some students will think that debate is just about talking, not about work. So set a good example and make sure that everyone knows what they're getting into. Your next few club meetings are going to be about getting oriented to the basics of debate - things like the ARESR argument structure and 4-step refutation. There are materials on our site and in our textbook to help with this; your teacher will be critical in making sure that everyone learns how to use these tools. You'll also need to learn to take notes on a flowsheet. There are templates on our website for this. Finally, you'll want to watch a sample debate online so that everyone knows how the debate format works. It will probably take you a few weeks to get all of this figured out. But you can start debating right away, if you choose some topics at first. This way everyone can do their research while they are learning. Start with easier topics, like "Television is a bad influence." Don't choose silly topics, because debating should be taken seriously. After you figure out how to debate, your club meetings will be full of debates. You can even have debates over what topics to choose next! There are plenty of sample topics on our website - feel free to use them.

Next, you might want to start a new league. This would be a great project. We don't have any leagues in South Carolina right now, so you would be the first. To start a league, you need at least three schools with teachers interested in getting trained to be debate coaches. This means that you're going to have to identify some target schools and write to their principals. Before you write to them, come up with a name for your debate league. Usually leagues are named the _____ ______ Debate League. The name could be Palmetto State Debate League, or Charleston City Debate League, or you could be named after some kind of geographical feature. Then send principals a letter inviting them to join your new league. Explain that to join, they have to have a coach. The coaches will all receive free training, because once you have a critical mass of teachers, you'll write to me and tell me about it. Then I'll plan to come there to do a training for the coaches. That training will be on a Saturday, and it will usually last from 10-4. After that, you can schedule your first tournament. Tournaments are also on Saturdays, and they usually last from 8-5. Schools host tournaments and arrange for lunch to be served for sale, usually pizza or sandwiches or something like that. There's a guide to hosting tournaments at the end of our Teacher's Guide that you can look at. Normally leagues have 5 tournaments per year, starting in October and running through April.

I look forward to working with you to start a new league in South Carolina. Please feel free to write to me any time with any questions you might have.




Kate Shuster, Ph.D.

Co-Director, Middle School Public Debate Program

New Video Resource

Thanks to our partners at the English-Speaking Union of the United States, we're pleased to offer a new demonstration debate. This is the final championship debate from 2016 featuring students from the Hackley School in New York and students from the Pegasus School in California.

There's also a judge's commentary you can watch with your students!

National Championship Topics and Locations

Unprecedented program growth has meant we've moved from one national championship tournament to four regional events this year - taken together, they will be the largest debate tournament in the world, with more than 1500 students participating.

Southeast Regionals will be at Tulane University on April 9, with teams from Louisiana, Colorado and Washington, D.C. participating. The topics (not in order) will be:

  • Ad blockers do more good than harm.
  • US Supreme Court justices should have term limits.
  • The discoverer of an abandoned shipwreck should have title to its artifacts.
  • Criminalize spanking!
  • Russian intervention in Syria does more good than harm.
  • Schools should abandon single-sex education.

The three remaining events will be on April 16 in New Jersey (for teams from D.C., New York and New Jersey); Sacramento (teams from Northern California, Oregon and Washington); and Pasadena (for Southern California schools). Those topics (not in round order) will be:

  • The US should establish a no-fly zone in Syria.
  • The US should have compulsory voting in general elections.
  • Schools should require cameras in classrooms.
  • Justice Antonin Scalia's Supreme Court Career did more good than harm.
  • Scientists should use cloning technology to resurrect animals made extinct by humans.
  • The US should adopt the metric system.