Five ways for debaters to improve

Tara Sallis was on the England Schools Debating Team in 2017 and is an undergraduate at Oxford University. On this guest blog she discusses five ways debaters can improve. 


If you have students who are enthusiastic about debating more, or you have particularly able debaters who want to polish their skills and try going to a competition, point them towards this list of five things they can do to improve their debating independently!

  1. Read

Many debaters get the competitive edge just by knowing what they are talking about. Keeping on top of the news and learning more about topics about are weak on is a simple way to boost your confidence and performance at a debating competition. Try setting aside time to read the news, and read longer comment articles where you can. The Economist and BBC Global News can be good ways to do this. If you are particularly weak on topics like sport or music try and learn some quick facts that might come in handy in a debate like the names of teams and players or the names of minority actors and musicians.

  1. Watch debates on YouTube

Especially if you are new to the format of debating that you are trying, watching other people debate is a really good way to get an idea of the style and arguments that will be expected of you. Try preparing the debate as opposition, listening to the first speech and then give the first opposition speech and see how close it was to the speech that the first opposition gives on the video. When watching the debates think about which team is winning and why, compare your own judgment to the judgment that was given at the end of the debate. To find these debates you can search on YouTube for ‘WUDC debates’ to find BP debates, and ‘WSDC debates’ to find World Schools examples.

  1. Try and get involved in judging or coaching

Judging or coaching someone else gives you a flavor of what it is like to be on the other side of the table. You will notice things that are good and bad about the debate you judge without the pressure of being involved. This can help you tailor your own debates to the judge and recognize things you might be doing that are less effective. You could ask to judge a debate in your school’s debate club, coach some younger students or you could try and set up and judge a competition at your school.

  1. Learn the jargon

If you start debating competitively you will begin hearing terms like “knife”, “assertion”, “comparative”, etc. Learning what these words mean allows you to fully engage in debates and understand the feedback you are given because more experienced teams won’t be able to blind you with lots of technical vocabulary and judges won’t be telling you that you “knifed opening” without you knowing what that really means. You can do this by asking judges to explain what they mean when they use these terms, or you can look on the Noisy Classroom website where many of these terms are explained.

  1. Team up with a friend

Debating is meant to be fun, and learning to debate with a friend can help you improve rapidly, whilst also having a good time. There are competitions that you can enter independently of your school as a pair, such as the St Paul’s Girls School Women’s Open which is pitched at beginner debaters. You could go along to one of these competitions with a friend, practice giving speeches and feedback to each other, and volunteer to go along to competitions that your school organize together. Often learning to debate with someone else can keep up your motivation and allow you to share what you learn that your friend may not have picked up on.

Leave a Reply

Scroll to Top