Building a Team

Materials for Building and Organizing a Team


You will find that it will be fairly easy to recruit students to participate in your school's now debate program. Middle school students love to argue, and will relish the chance to learn to debate. To recruit students for the program, your most important task will be to raise awareness at your school. We suggest that you use a multi-pronged strategy to get students interested and involved in the program. This might include any of the following strategies:

  • Announce the new program over the public address system.
  • Include program information, meeting times, and meeting location in the daily bulletin circulated at your school.
  • Post recruiting flyers around the school to raise awareness and stimulate interest.
  • Enlist other teachers to help you recruit likely students from their classes.
  • Hold a public speaking contest at your school or in your classes to generate interest.
  • Choose topics for debates at your weekly meetings that will stimulate interest, and promote those debates separately to generate interest and participation.

Resist the temptation to recruit only 8th grade students. You will need students from other grades as well, so you won't lose all your experienced debaters when they graduate. One of the best ways to perpetuate a strong team is to build peer instruction networks where more experienced students will help to teach their less experienced counterparts.

Also, you should resist the temptation to recruit only from your school's gifted and talented classes. Students who are not successful in traditional educational settings may excel in debate. Some of the most successful debaters are often the least successful students.


After an initial organizing and orientation meeting or two, you will find that your meetings largely organize themselves. Once the students learn the format for debating in the parliamentary style, they will be able to have weekly practices and performances on a variety of topics. Students will also learn to work together to share information, research, and ideas when preparing for competitions. Of course, in the start-up phase of the club, you will have to work to teach the students how to debate in the MSPDP format:

The students do not need to be fully conversant with the parliamentary debate style to be able to debate; in fact, you may find that your meetings go more smoothly and you are able to build more interest among students if you slowly build up to having full debates. It will be important, particularly at first, to choose topics that are relevant and interesting to the students. Your debates and discussions will be more lively and informed if you choose topics of interest to the students. However, you should also choose some topics that require research and preparation - one of the great things about debate is that it provides an incentive for students to investigate new topics.

Your students can begin to debate right away, and you can have them debate in any one of a number of possible formats. Students should develop impromptu and extemporaneous debate abilities, so some club debates should be on topics that are announced 20 minutes before the debate is to commence, allowing students only a limited amount of preparation time. Other debates should be on topics that are announced a week or even several weeks in advance, so that students can have an extended period to research and prepare their presentations.


There are many places online where you can find ideas for debate and speaking exercises to motivate and engage your club members. There are lesson plans and exercises on this site, in the Curriculum Center . Also, you can find an online site containing exercises and debate games here on the International Debate Education Association Web site.

Impromptu Speeches

Many teachers find it helpful to start club meetings with impromptu student speeches. Each student can draw a word, phrase, topic, or saying out of a hat. Students can have up to 5 minutes to prepare a 1-2 minute speech on their topic. This can also be a good way to end a club meeting.

A-R-E Practice

As a variant on the impromptu speech exercise, you can have students deliver short speeches where they make an argument using the A-R-E format (assertion, reasoning, and evidence). Students can draw a topic out of a hat or choose a subject of their own, and deliver a short 1-minute speech where they make an argument using the three-part model.

4-Step Refutation Practice

As another variant on the impromptu speech exercise, you can have students pick a topic or an argument out of a hat and deliver a short (1-minute) speech in which they refute the topic or argument using the 4-step method for refutation. (For more information on 4-step refutation, you can find the refutation handout in the Teaching Resource Center.) You can also have students do the above A-R-E exercise in pairs, where one student delivers the argument, and the other refutes it immediately after.

Note-taking Practice

Students need considerable help working on their note-taking skills. You can help students work on their note-taking and "flowing" skills by using a number of exercises. Some of these exercises are available in the Teaching Resource Center under "Taking Notes in Debates." You can also have students watch and "flow" a news program that you tape and bring to class, like the Nightly News Hour with Jim Lehrer.

Researching and Compiling Notes

You will find that a good bit of your club time will be taken up by researching and compiling notes on topics for upcoming tournaments or club debates. Students can work on topics in teams or small groups, and should be required to prepare notes or issue briefs to be shared with the rest of the class. As the tournament approaches, these briefs can be photocopied for everyone in the club and compiled in three-ring notebooks to bring to the tournament. A substantial selection of issue briefs is available in the Teaching Resource Center.

Practice Debates

Students need to practice to improve their debate skills. You may wish to have practice debates in club meetings to help students improve. While you have practice debates with groups of 6 students at a time, other students can be assigned to judge the debate. Those students can be asked to function as judges will - they should take notes, or "flow", the debate carefully and share comments after the debate. Students do not have to declare a "winner" to provide good feedback. After a practice debate, the whole club can talk about which arguments on each side seemed the strongest, and use this experiential learning to improve their issue briefs on the subject.

Sometimes, students will want to work on research or other projects while a practice debate is happening. Depending on your resources, students should be organized in whatever way you feel is best. For example, you might have two students judge a debate with you while another group of students works with computers doing research, and yet another group works on writing up issue briefs for presentation in class.

Practice for Points of Information

Students need to practice answering and asking questions, controlling the floor in debates, and interacting with others. You can productively integrate practice in the use of points of information into all exercises that you use in your club meetings. For example, the week before a club meeting, you can assign students to deliver short speeches (3-4 minutes) on simple topics. Then, while students deliver their speeches, you can open up the floor to points of information from the rest of the club. The speaker will have the ability to take or reject as many as she wants, but should take at least a few points. This tests the club's ability to make good points, and tests the speaker's ability to control the floor and answer points well. After each speech, have a brief discussion - did the speaker control the floor? Were the points good or bad? Did the speaker do a good job of answering the points she took?

If you don't want to test floor management skills, you can also incorporate points after short student speeches. Have students deliver short speeches on issues you or they select, and then open the floor to questions for the speaker. This allows students to practice impromptu speaking and questioning skills.






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