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How debating and public speaking help develop key skills

Activities such as debating and public speaking at school can help students develop important skills.

Ensuring our young people enter the workforce equipped with the necessary skills to meet the challenges of the 21st century is one of most important challenges facing schools today. 

One way that schools are embracing the challenge is by using the classroom to develop skills in what is known as “21st Century Learning.” Alongside digital literacy, IT skills and STEM education, today’s educators are focussed on activities and projects that promote important skills such as critical and creative thinking, problem solving and strong communication and collaboration skills. 

While classroom learning has adapted to these challenges by reframing the way lessons are conducted, there are many ways that schools can nurture these skills in their students. At Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School, co-curricular activities such as the Public Speaking and Debating program offer a valuable opportunity to develop these important skills from an early age. 

Mrs Helen Moore, Deputy Head of Junior School, is a passionate advocate for the importance of communication skills. “Public speaking is one of the most important skills for this era that we live in.” 

Moore oversees the annual Junior School Public Speaking Festival, where students from Year 2- Year 6 take part in writing and presenting a speech to their classmates. Topics can range from balloons and pets to environmental issues and even illegal sweatshops, and the winners from each year level participate in a formal assembly to present their talks in front of the whole Junior School. The Public Speaking Festival encourages students to develop confidence in their own ideas and their own voices in a situation that many adults would find challenging.  


“If you can’t communicate effectively then it doesn’t matter how clever you are, it’s no use,” explains Mrs Moore. 

Debating offers another way for students to develop their creative and critical thinking, work in a collaborative environment and hone essential communication skills at the same time. 

Students must research the given topic and analyse not only their own argument, but also those the opposition may present. “Getting the information, using evidence, working out ways to communicate their information… it's a very nicely structured form of teaching for developing all those skills,” says Mrs Moore. 

In debating, students have to learn to support one another. “If you don’t work with your team, your argument will fall apart,” explains Ms Alana Ryan, who coordinates the Senior School Debating program at Ivanhoe Girls’. “You really have to listen to what your teammates are saying, and find a way to adapt what they’ve said to your argument.” 

It’s a hard thing to do when you’ve only got a couple of minutes to think, and you’re debating in front of an audience.  

“It’s good practice for thinking on your feet,” she says. 


Critical thinking skills also get a workout. “If you're a debater, you need to have a good sense of the content of the argument and be able to support it in a really logical way,” she says. “Communications skills are super important for students to be able to break arguments down and identify what rebuttals to use in arguments.”  

It’s not just about having a solid argument though. “You get marked on your matter, your manner and your method,” explains Ms Ryan. Eye contact and confidence are rated just as highly as the content. Students develop confidence and an ability to speak for themselves. 

“It’s something that holds them up really well when they have to speak publicly, such as the Year 12 English Oral Exam,” she says.