The Big Debate – how debating can give your students a boost

This week QA Education spoke to Joanne Denham, Librarian at Wodensborough Ormiston Academy in Wednesbury, about the ‘Big Debate Day’ recently held at the school and the benefits of inclusive debating workshops to give students a boost in their confidence and a stronger career focus.

 Tell us about your schoolThe Big Debate – how debating can give your students a boost

Wodensborough Ormiston Academy is a mixed secondary school for students aged 11 to 16 in Wednesbury, in the West Midlands. We are sponsored by Ormiston Academies Trust (OAT), and sharing the networks’ values, we have a strong commitment to enhancing students’ education and inspiring them to use their curiosity and creativity. I have been the Librarian at Wodensborough Ormiston Academy since 2003, and during this time I have been proud to support this programme of work - helping to enrich our students’ learning and development through a number of activities including a writing club, a reading group and a news club.  

 Why did you choose to run the ‘Big Debate Day’?

At Wodensborough, we are committed to providing a comprehensive extra-curricular programme for all our students, and we had been thinking for a while about introducing a weekly debating club into our list of activities available. The team at The Week Junior magazine approached us and offered to run the ‘Big Debate Day’with oracy charity the English-Speaking Union (ESU). It seemed like the perfect launch event and an opportunity to learn hints and tips for running the club from a professional debater!

 What did the ‘Big Debate Day’ involve?

The session involved the students taking part in a number of activities and games that would be easily replicable in a classroom setting. The games are all geared towards helping students improve their articulation and oracy skills, as well as developing the soft-skills they need to succeed after they leave school. The workshop was particularly great because it focused on including students of all confidence levels.

Taking inspiration from the vibrant and engaging Big Debatepages in The Week Junior magazine, our students were challenged to use the Point Explanation Evidence Link (PEEL) technique to discuss and come up with ‘for’and ‘against’arguments on topics that they had an interest in. By asking the children to think through their answers in small groups using PEEL they learned to fine-tune their own opinions, as well as to be empathetic and understanding towards different points of view.

 Another favourite activity of the day was ‘ma-ma-moo’– a game that asks the students to give a persuasive speech using only the sounds ‘ma-ma-moo’. The game teaches students the importance of intonation and body language in delivering an impactful speech. ‘Ma-ma-moo’was particularly helpful in levelling the playing field between students of different confidence levels, which is very important for helping some of our shyer students to get stuck in and find their voice.

 What was the feedback from the students like?

The response from our students was fantastic. We were determined that all students would benefit from the session, and with the help of The Week Junior and the ESU, all of our students flourished, jumping at the chance to formulate and share their opinions in front of the group. I have never seen so many students so enthusiastic, and I have noticed a real improvement in their confidence levels since taking part in the debating club – which is something we really champion at the school.

 One of our Year 8 students, Mehtab, sent a letter to The Week Junior team thanking them for the opportunity, 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.”

 It has been brilliant to notice some of our students who at times lack confidence, come out of their shell, and helping them discover that they too can enjoy debating and reap its rewards.  

 Any advice for teachers thinking about setting up their own debating workshop?

Our students are really drawn to the format of The Week Junior and loved the debating topics contained within the magazine. Some of their favourites topics are: ‘Should children be allowed to vote?’, ‘Are celebrities be good role models?’ and ‘Should the school day start later?’ When setting up an inclusive debating workshop in your school, I highly recommend using debating materials that use topics that children can relate to and have strong opinions on. Not only will this help spark discussion, but it will also be the best way to get all of your students involved. Using topics that require background knowledge or lots of extra-curricular research will risk alienating some students.

 What benefits have you seen from running your debating club?

Running a debate club is a must for any school looking to expand on their extra-curricular activities, and offer a meaningful skills-boost to all of their students. The benefits of debating are so wide ranging; from enhancing career aspirations and improving articulation, to learning to be tolerant towards opposing views to their own. I believe that debating clubs are a really important aspect of a child’s education. If you are looking to provide your students with a confidence boost that will propel their academic career, look no further than debating.


To learn more about how The Week Junior can support your school please visit:
To learn more about the English-Speaking Union please visit: