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.
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