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How To Start a Discussion Club in High School
Discussing a topic with your peers is one of the best ways to learn about opinions other than your own and gain a new perspective on a topic that you might not have otherwise thought about. If engaging in discourse on a variety of subjects with your classmates is something that you’re particularly interested in, you might want to consider starting a discussion club at your high school!
Discussion clubs can be a great way to meet other individuals who are passionate about a given issue. This can also be a helpful way to gain leadership skills and experience facilitating productive and interesting discussions. Read on to learn about the steps you can take in order to start a discussion club at your high school.
What is a discussion club?
A discussion club is a club that meets to discuss a preselected topic. The club will usually meet during lunch or a study hall period. This might be a discussion that is based on prior readings, or it might be on a topic that is presented by a speaker during the meeting. The readings or speakers will be centered around a theme that the discussion club has chosen. These themes might have something to do with politics, literature, or maybe even religion. When it comes to discussion clubs, the possibilities are virtually endless.
What will your topic be?
Once you’ve thought about whether or not you’re interested in starting a discussion club, start considering your what your discussion topic might be. When you’re picking a subject for your discussion, try to choose a relevant topic that other students would be interested in and eager to learn about. This might mean choosing a topic that related to current events, or a topic that you don’t get the opportunity to learn much about at your high school. If your school doesn’t offer Shakespeare in its curriculum, for example, maybe you should start a discussion club about Shakespearean texts.
You should also make sure that this topic is something you’re passionate about yourself. After all, you don’t want to be sitting there bored at your own discussion club’s meetings!
Consider how broad or vague you want your topic to be. It could be anything, from a broad topic like astrology to something more specific like japanese films in the 1970s.
It might also help you narrow down your topic options by determining whether it’s more important that a lot of people attend your discussion, or just a few dedicated members. If you’re looking for higher attendance numbers, it might make more sense to choose a broader topic of discussion (something like politics or current events), whereas if you’re looking for more dedicated members, it would be wise to choose a more specific topic (something like the history of chess).
Topics can certainly be political (the future of the European Union might be a relevant topic to talk about, as would the two-party system in America), but they don’t have to be. There are lot of great options for discussions that are not political—you could consider talking about the different female characters in Jane Austen, art by the Inuit, the future space of exploration, understanding what part mathematics plays in Sports, the best apocalyptic comics—the possibilities are essentially limitless. You could even think about issues specific to your area: maybe there’s something unique or controversial going on in your town. If it’s something that’s relevant to the larger world, chances are there will be a few individuals who will be eager to talk about it!
What will your discussions be like?
As you’re thinking about what your discussions within your club might be like, you should ask yourself a few questions:
First of all, do you want you want to lead the discussion club alone? It can be nice to have more control and more leadership experience within this sitting, but there are also cases where it might be nice to have someone else to consult. Consider asking yourself whether or not it would be helpful to have someone else co-presiding over your discussion club.
What about teacher/faculty advisors? Is there a particular teacher who is interested in your topic of discussion that might be willing to help out? Maybe you could use their classroom to host your meetings, or maybe they could actually be involved in the regular operations of the club and determining what the topic of discussion might be.
Will it be a discussion among students or will you host panels of speakers who discuss among themselves and then answer students’ questions? Be aware these two options may end up fostering different kinds of discussion. Which one do you think would most benefit yourself and the students involved?
Will there be a reading list of different topics and issues to discuss? Keep in mind that it can be hard to get everyone to read in time for a discussion, especially with the heavy workload that often comes during the school year. It might be helpful, in this case, to have bi-weekly or monthly meetings as opposed to weekly ones. If you are considering having a reading list, be sure to also ask yourself how you will determine the reading list and how you will distribute the readings.
Would you want to invite speakers to your discussion club? It certainly can be interesting to have an expert on a given topic come to your club and share their knowledge in order to foster more productive discussions. If you do decide that you want speakers involved with your club, how will you find them? What types of people will come to speak? Will you bring them to your club meetings, or will you hold club-sponsored trips to outside events where there are speakers?
It can often be helpful to come up with a set of rules and guidelines for the discussion that you share with all attendants so that everyone is clear on what is acceptable and what is not before the discussion starts. This will help maintain respectful conversation and will encourage people to talk more coherently about their ideas rather than opting for personal attacks when people happen to disagree.
In terms of the actual club meetings, you should also ask yourself whether or not you will serve food. What will the costs of your club be? How will you raise that money? Will you hold fundraising events? For more tips on how to fundraise for school clubs, check out this CollegeVine post.
Making your club official at school
Once you’ve worked through some of the more difficult questions regarding your club, you can begin to go through the process of getting your club established at school. Be sure to follow your school’s rules to establishing a club, keeping in mind that these rules will be different at each school.
It is a good idea to get your club approved by your school. This will give you a higher standing and make your club look more professional in the event that you end up asking speakers to come. Being an official club might also make it easier to receive funding from your school, especially in the event that you need money to serve food or pay a speaker.
Of course, you don’t need Barack Obama or Vladimir Putin to come to your discussion club in order to talk about foreign policy. You should try to find speakers within in your community to come talk on a given subject—if there’s a local issue, for example, determine someone within your community who might possess expertise on the subject, like a city council or school board member.
Other potential speakers might include tour guides at a local museum (or other museum faculty). If you live near a college or university, professors there would usually be happy to come talk at a high school discussion club. If you live near a research institution, researchers (and even lab assistants) can offer a lot of unique and useful knowledge to your club.
You can also look at the websites of experts individuals in your field of interest. Sometimes these individuals might be in the process of giving speaking tours around the country, so they might even be in your area. You could contact them and ask if they might be willing to make a stop by your school. If that doesn’t work out, you could also arrange a field trip to their event in the case that it’s relatively nearby!
Teachers at your school might also possess some useful expertise on your topic of discussion. Keep in mind that they don’t even necessarily need to teach on the subject—sometimes even a hobby can provide a great knowledge base!
Promoting your club
If you’re worried that your topic is unpopular, you might be surprised by how many people might be interested in participating in discussions (especially with good advertising).
Be sure to tell everyone and anyone about it. This means friends, classmates, acquaintances—you name it! You should also think about how your subject can be interesting and relevant to all sorts of people, not just those that you would typically think would be interested in your subject. If you’re discussing literature, for example, think about how these types of discussions might benefit those involved with STEM fields, not just those who love English and writing.
Remember that just because you think that someone won’t be interested in your topic doesn’t mean that’s actually the case. Be sure that you’re not ruling out individuals who might actually want to attend.
When it comes to promoting your club, advertise, advertise, advertise! Be sure to hang up posters around your school, put a notice in the school bulletin and newspaper, and even talk to teachers of related subjects (this is especially helpful because they can recommend it to their students. Some may even offer extra credit for those who participate)!
Before your first meeting, be sure to come prepared with questions that will be inclusive to those who might not otherwise talk or know what to say. You should also think of strategies to handle quietness or lulls in the conversation in the event that things happen to fall flat during a meeting.
You might also want to consider hosting film screenings within your club. Film screenings on a topic can help attract people who might otherwise be intimidated by regular discussions. This can also be a great way to switch up the programming every once in a while as opposed to having speakers or discussing certain readings. If you can come up with any ideas for other alternative programming, be sure to pursue these as well.
If you’re someone who loves having conversations that involve a variety of different opinions on a given topic, consider starting a discussion club at your high school. While starting this club might take some hard work and some serious leadership skills, it will likely be a rewarding and enlightening experience.
For more information on extracurriculars and starting clubs at your high school, check out these blog posts: