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Debate Camp strives to be relational. To help campers feel that they belong and are appreciated is at the heart of the camp mission. Learning and risk taking is also proven to be enhanced by the feeling of safety and belonging. Both retention of the camper and the camper’s learning are enhanced by feeling appreciated as a member of the camp community. Debate is, at its heart, adversarial, so, when not debating, we must be deliberate about kind and complementary interactions. We must be intentional about community building as we have a new community every five days!



Debate Camp's program is only 5 days / or for online - generally 5 or 6 sessions [between 90 min and 2h]. In spite of this short (by comparison) experience, what enhances the novelty and contributes the the "camp" experience is the chance to  get to know their instructor and making new friends.  Secondly, debate - - by it's nature is an adversarial activity that requires some reminders of "decorum" with younger learners. 


The maturity required to distance ideas from individuals is not always present at age 11, 12 or 14 and 15 even.  Thus, in addition to building up the idea of debate decorum and respect, it is important for campers to know a little bit about each other, to feel respected and connected to the whole experience throughout a week that will, at several points each day - teach them how to speak opposite each other.  



It is important to be deliberate about getting to know your campers and encouraging them to get to know each other. Anonymity is a dangerous thing, both for classroom management and for avoiding campers becoming inappropriate or offensive during debate rounds. 


It is important to treat campers with dignity, model behaviour you wish to see, use campers’ names (the name tags are a reflection of the camp’s desire to be relational), draw attention to and reward acts of kindness or consideration by one camper to another, be willing to be awkward in order to model kindness, validate feelings and treat campers as emotional (in addition to academic) beings.


Be aware of mid/late summer fatigue - every week is a THE week for our new set of campers to experience the community we can offer them.  Here are some ideas that might help ensure the Debate Camp community remains a safe and accepting space for developing new skills:

  •   ONLINE & IN-PERSON: Kindness Jar:  

Encourage each camper to write a kind encouraging remark about another camper within your table group/learning group. This can be done virtually by a private chat to you through Zoom or in person in an actual jar. This could be done as an “exit ticket” activity. Review the notes and read them out loud (when assured they are appropriate and there is a comment for everyone). Be sure to review comments before sharing them with campers to make sure that they are appropriate. You could initiate this at the beginning of each lesson and read them to the group at the end.

  •   ONLINE & IN-PERSON: Something that Represents Me:

Give campers a minute to look around their room or house and find an object that represents something about them. Allow them each a moment to present the item and explain how it represents them.

  •   ONLINE & IN-PERSON: Culture of Encouragement: 

Provide examples of phrases and phrasings that campers can use to encourage one another in what they have done well and how to excel further.

  •   ONLINE & IN-PERSON: Reward kindness:

Be alert to moments of kindness between campers. When you witness a camper’s generosity or kindness towards another, call them out for it. This can be done either privately or even publicly within your group.

  •   ONLINE & IN-PERSON: Community Circle

At the beginning of a session, ask a question and go around your group asking for a brief response (even a one word answer). For example, “What is one word that describes how you feel at this moment?” Or make it humorous, for example, “What insect best represents you and why?” To increase connectedness, ask campers to greet someone and ask the question, for example, Camper John says, “Good morning Yuri, what insect best represents you?” Yuri answers and then says “Good morning Hazel, what insect best represents you?” These could also be curriculum based, for example, “Greet each other and then ask, what aspect of yesterday’s lesson was new to them?”


  • Be deliberate about fostering relationships with kids

  • Use names - always, ensure you have pronunciation correct and know who is in your group in advance of teaching

  • Be deliberate about community creation and remember we have a whole new community every 5 days

  • Try a simple "name game": Go around “room” on zoom, using the first letter of their name, describe themselves. Counsellor jots it down. Refer to your notes as you follow up with kids throughout the week.

  • Add to rationale, mention of the debate skill is adversarial, so when off the debate round, we need to be kind and complimentary, deliberate about kind interactions


ONLINE & IN-PERSON:  We have some students starting to really embrace the idea of debate such that their free time is tending towards argumentation, which is interesting for the couple of strong personalities in your group, but overwhelming for some of the quieter campers.


What are some strategies you will use to direct the interactions of your table group to try to change the dynamic and build a place for each of your campers?







A camper has made an argument during prep time that falls outside of the scope of the debate round, and is really proud of it. How do you approach the camper in such a way that they change their argument to be more persuasive? 

What are some methods of good community building?

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