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Boosting confidence through inclusive debating

Academy librarian, Jo Denham, discusses the importance of encouraging all students - not just confident speakers - to participate in debating sessions

Posted by Julian Owen | March 31, 2018 | School life

If your school is anything like mine, you will have experienced how hard it can be to encourage some children to share their opinions. Whilst it is evident that students who regularly participate in debates and discussions receive a boost in confidence, improved articulation and raised career aspirations, the resource required to engage children in these activities has traditionally focused on students who show an interest; for example, by signing up to debate clubs.

The challenge for us as education practitioners is to promote inclusive debating. We need to encourage and support less confident students to find their voice, and this year at Wodensborough Ormiston Academy we’ve had a breakthrough!

Wodensborough is currently participating in an enrichment programme run by children’s current affairs magazine, 'The Week Junior', who invited us to participate in The Big Debate. Run by the magazine and oracy charity, the English-Speaking Union, the event involved students with different levels of confidence participating in a variety of debating games and tasks, culminating in a big live debate.

Enriching students’ education and inspiring them to use their curiosity and creativity is a major priority for Ormiston Academies Trust (OAT), following the launch of the OAT Enrichment Charter in 2016. Running activity sessions such as The Big Debate is a fantastic way to enhance pupils’ students’ education, by building upon what they learn in the classroom.

It was fantastic to see how much enthusiasm our students demonstrated during the session. The games were fun and easily-accessible to those students with less confidence and – importantly – could be readily replicated by teachers. This was confirmed by one of our own teachers, Jessica Millward, who assisted in the running of the session, ensuring all students were engaged.

"By using simple games and engaging resources, debating and discussing current affairs can be made accessible to all students."

One example is “ma-ma-moo” – a game that asks children to give a persuasive speech using only the sounds “ma-ma-moo”. This activity aims to diffuse any worries students may have about not knowing the right thing to say. Games like this level the playing field amongst students, easing initial nerves or reservations they may have about talking in front of a group.

Another useful technique that got the students talking was Point Evidence Explanation Link (PEEL). Working in pairs, students chose a topic from The Week Junior’s Big Debate page and were asked to come up with for and against arguments using PEEL. This helped to cement the students’ understanding of good debating skills, and encouraged them to be empathetic to the opinions and ideas of their peers.

The Big Debate topics were really effective, immediately engaging the students, and they became increasingly enthusiastic throughout the session. Given the right platform, in a relaxed environment, our students jumped at the chance to share their opinions and take part in lively discussions, particularly as they were talking about issues they actually cared about, such as ‘should children be allowed to vote?’.

One student who particularly enjoyed The Big Debate day was Year 8 student, Methab. Following the event, she wrote a letter to the team at The Week Junior, saying:

“The Big Debate was one of the most amazing workshops I've ever been to! It was engaging, with fun activities and we did learn loads about debating.

“It gave us a chance to learn to debate, which is a really important part of some jobs and it also helps open up our minds and use our voices to communicate and give our opinions.”

The place of debating in a child’s education shouldn’t be reserved for only the most confident pupils. I‘ve found that by using simple games and engaging resources, debating and discussing current affairs can be made accessible to all students. Consider promoting inclusive debating sessions in your school and give your pupils a confidence boost which they will embrace!

To learn more about how The Week Junior can support your school please visit:

To learn more about the English-Speaking Union please visit:

Jo Denham is librarian at Wodensborough Ormiston Academy.

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