Planning Practices: Tips for Extracurricular Debate Coaches

For many coaches and teachers, debate is an extracurricular activity, rather than a class. This can pose unique challenges to coaches who are teaching a full load of classes in another subject and managing a debate team. This week’s resource is designed to assist extracurricular debate coaches in creating a practice schedule and planning individual practices. 

Practice Planning = Curriculum Planning

When coaching Public Forum or Lincoln Douglas debate, it’s often helpful to think of each topic as a curricular “unit.” For these debate events, where topics change monthly or bi-monthly, it’s important to have benchmarks for preparation and goals for students throughout their time debating the topic. Planning out a topic as a “unit” helps ensure a variety of activities, preparation for tournaments, and skill-building. 

Here’s a suggested outline for a one-month Public Forum Debate topic with the first tournament at the end of Week 2. 

Week 1: Topic Analysis and Research 

  • Coaches and/or experienced debaters conduct a topic analysis 
  • Assign and begin research on the topic 
  • Set deadlines for cases and blocks 
  • Conduct extemporaneous debates on the topic 

Week 2: Case and block-writing 

  • Students submit cases and blocks to each other/coaches for review 
  • Teams work together to improve cases and blocks prior to the tournament
  • Teams complete one practice debate on each side of the topic 

Week 3: Post-tournament practice and strategy 

  • Debrief tournament 
  • Re-do speeches from tournament 
  • Conduct additional research and preparation as needed

Week 4: Drills 

  • Continue re-doing speeches from tournaments 
  • Take time in practice to do skill-building drills 
  • Give students time for final preparation as needed

Practice Planning = Lesson Planning 

For new and experienced coaches alike, it can be helpful to think about planning an individual practice like planning a classroom lesson. Students and coaches are usually tired by the time debate practice rolls around, so having a set structure for practice can help everyone stay focused. Here’s a sample practice plan for a mid-month Public Forum Debate practice the week after the tournament. 

3:00PM-3:30PM Team-wide Post-Tournament Debrief 

  • What new arguments did you hear at the tournament? 
  • What new pieces of evidence did you hear at the tournament? 
  • What did you do well in your rounds? 
  • What do you need to improve on before the next tournament? 
  • What are our team’s top priorities in preparing for the next tournament? 

3:30PM-4:15PM Re-Do Speeches 

Place team members in pairs different than their normal debate partnerships. Have students redo speeches from different rounds over the course of the weekend and give each other feedback. As they practice, coaches should rotate between debaters, listening to speeches from as many different debaters as possible and giving feedback. 

4:15PM-5:00PM Strategy and Research 

  • Identify and assign research needed to improve cases and blocks 
  • Give students time to work on this research and set a clear deadline for its completion

Thinking about extra-curricular practice as a different format for the same classroom-based lessons that teachers are used to will help you provide structure and goals to your team. The important thing to keep in mind is that all teams are different and it may take some tinkering to find what works best for your team.

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