‘Learning how to debate properly will serve you the rest of your life’

Each year, the VMBO Debating competition is organised especially for VMBO pupils. Over 40 debating teams from all over the Netherlands compete, including a team from the Revius Wijk Lyceum. They won the competition in 2017.

Why debate in vocational education?

Debating is very useful for VMBO pupils. They learn so much, such as daring to speak with a more convincing tone of voice and listening more carefully. Pupil Sanne was a members of the winning team in 2017. Sanne: “It was great to compete in the debating competition and I think that by taking part I have improved my speaking and listening skills.”

Positive feedback

The VMBO Debating competition has been around since 2008. What makes the competition so special, is that pupils debate in several debating rounds. After each round, expert jury members provide them with substantial feedback. The emphasis is on what the pupils are doing right, rather than on what needs improving. This positive approach motivates pupils to put the tips to good use in the next round.

Educational component

Ellen Meijer (Dutch teacher at the Revius Wijk Lyceum): “Over here, debating is part of the Dutch final exams. We see it as a wonderful opportunity to work on speaking skills because thanks to the debate training, pupils learn to put into words what they’re thinking. They also like the fact that they’re allowed to voice their opinions in a civilized manner. Voicing your opinion passionately is a skill that will come in useful the rest of your life!”


By regularly practising their debating skills, pupils not only improve their speaking and listening skills, but they also acquire presentation skills. On top of this, they learn to convince others as they must try to refute other people’s arguments in the debate. Ellen: “The skills pupils acquire during the debate training have a knock-on effect in other subjects. It’s good for their vocabulary, self-confidence, they learn to place themselves in someone else’s position and they develop an interest for current affairs.”

Listen carefully

Pupil Sanne: “If you’re putting an argument forward, you have to do this in a very structured way. You must state to whom and what you’re reacting. To be able to do this, you have to listen carefully. Personally, I’m quite attentive. For instance, I heard that one of my opponents would contradict himself, at times.”


All kinds of subjects pass the review during the debates, such as economic refugees or advertising for alcohol. Ellen presses on her pupils that they must think before they speak. The greatest challenge isn’t reigning in the pupil with the loudest voice, but making sure that less outspoken pupils also have their say.


Practising for the debating competition is done in small groups in class and the competition’s mode of operation is followed as closely as possible. Just as in the real competition, pupils are given a proposition and only at a later point in time, are they told whether they will be arguing for or against it. This way, they practise both sides of the argument. Ellen practised two lessons a week for three weeks. The teacher’s role is to coach and offer advice. In the run-up to the competitions, the participating teams also practise during their breaks and after school.

Other grades and levels

As debating has such a big impact on young people, the school would like to expand it to other grades and levels, in the long run. Ellen: “The fact that we’re competing in the debating competition is a good pretence to introduce other classes to it, but we’re not that far yet.”


This is what debate training looks like

The Stichting Nederlands Debat Instituut (Foundation Dutch Debating Institute) has developed a debating format that’s highly accessible for VMBO called: Freeze & Go. In this format, two teams debate: the advocates and the opponents, each with five speakers. Each team has a captain, debaters and a conclusive speaker who sums up.

The Freeze & Go-format consists of four phases.

  • In the set-up phase, each captain has two minutes to support or oppose the proposition.
  • This is followed by the reaction phase: a period of six minutes in which the debaters from both teams put their arguments forward and react to one another. The debate leader hands the floor to the participants and makes sure both teams have the same amount of speaking time.
  • After the reaction phase, the debate leader shouts: Freeze! Now the Freeze & Go moment begins. The debate leader briefly summarizes the debate and the teams prepare for the final phase.
  • In the final phase, the opponents’ conclusive speaker has two minutes to provide a summarized conclusion analysis first after which it’s the supporters’ conclusive speaker’s turn.

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