How to run a winning debate club

Sujatha Nair, English teacher at Our Own English High School, Sharjah – Boys’ Branch (OOB) shares her tips for setting up and running a debate society.

OOB students compete at an international inter-school debate competition

Students at Our Own English High School, Sharjah – Boys’ Branch (OOB) are actively encouraged to participate and practice public speaking and debating.

For many students, debate club is a staple of high school. Just like football, basketball, and other sports, debate teams give students a chance to challenge themselves and refine valuable skills for their future.

Debate has been noted as an important skill for careers in everything from business management to law and public policy, so we caught up with Sujatha Nair, who runs the school’s Debate Society, for her top tips on running a winning debate club.

“If you’re planning to start a debate club at your school, then, firstly, congratulations! You’re about to create a great thing for your students!

The club that I have created is called ‘Debating Society’. Its members do not appreciate it being referred to as a debating ‘club’. They say to me, ‘Ma’am, ours is not a mere club. It’s a society.’ That’s the spirit of my debaters.
This co-scholastic activity truly is an extension of classroom learning. It ensures mutual growth for both the students and teachers involved.

My number one piece of advice to anyone embarking on a debate club would be to have a plan. Debate clubs are engaging and enlightening for students and staff, but there is a lot of planning involved, especially when it comes to competitions, so be sure to consider the following:

  • Time to be allotted for conducting club sessions
  • Frequency of sessions
  • Who will monitor the students
  • What types of debate to train for
  • Debate coaches
  • Adjudicators
  • Inter-school events
  • In-house competitions/debate events

I have created a WhatsApp group for Society members to make communication easy. The motion for a debate is given one week ahead. But details of the sides (Proposition or Opposition) are given only 30 minutes before the event. This, as well as the formats of debating and the scoresheets, is in line with the competitions we take part in.

To maintain interest and give the students something special to prepare for, we also hold Parliamentary and Mock United Nations debates.  

When we have competitions that are not virtual, I take the debaters to the competition venues to provide them with valuable exposure and get them comfortable in that environment.

We also have practise sessions for those who are chosen for debate competitions. In our society, I provide debate training for students and moderate practise debates. I also bring in the help of winning debaters to train the novices. Ex-student debaters also contribute in this way, and their ardent support is proof that, in their own words, ‘Debating Society is the place to be’.”