How do you train your Model UN team between conferences?
This was a question I received from several advisors I met during at past weekend’s Stanford MUN Conference. They explained that, once they received the country assignments for their next conference, they could start assigning students to committees and help them with research and speeches. But in the meantime, what should advisors teach? In other words, how do you prepare your students for their next conference before they know their country and committee?
My suggestion: think of Model UN as a sport and you as the coach of your Model UN team. I like to think of Model UN as a “smart sport” — a sport for smart students with social skills. And in any sport, you help your team improve by practicing regularly. This includes:
- Warm ups, strength training, and conditioning exercises;
- Lessons about rules and strategy;
- Drills to improve specific fundamental skills;
- Practice games and scrimmages with other teams; and,
- Reviewing performances from previous games.
Help your Model UN team improve by practicing regularly, and you don’t have to wait for an upcoming conference or country assignments before you start practicing. Below are 5 tips, inspired by team sports and athletics, to help you get started.
1. Warm up with current events.
A delegate who is well-aware of international issues is the Model UN equivalent of a well-conditioned athlete. MUNers should read the news regularly and keep up with current events. This is easier than ever in the age of online news and social media sharing.
Ask your students to prepare a current event before each meeting of your MUN team. Kick off your practices by having a few students take turns presenting their current events. Encourage students to ask questions about each other’s current events, including questions about the facts (who, what, where, when, why, how, how many, how much) and questions that invite critical thinking, e.g. what do you think should be done about this problem?
Related Article: How to Teach Model UN: Current Events
2. Feature lessons on Model UN rules, topics, and strategies.
Rules of procedure differ by conference and country, but some rules are universal: moderated caucus, unmoderated caucus, point of inquiry, etc. Model UN topics are even less uniform and they change every year, but some topics are quintessential: nuclear non-proliferation, child soldiers, Israel-Palestine, human rights, HIV/AIDS, development, etc.
You’re not expected to be an expert on every Model UN rule and topic. But every time your students attend a conference, they become more familiar with the rules, and each of them become experts on a certain topic. Encourage them to share their expertise with one another. Ahead of each practice, ask one or two students to prepare a 5- or 10-minute presentation on a specific rule or topic.
There is also a lot of strategy articles on the Best Delegate website. It might be too much for one student to try to read all of them, but you can assign your group of students to each read several articles and present a few strategies a week to learn all of them quickly. Similarly, you can assign students to read different chapters or pages of the How to Win Awards in Model United Nations guide and have the students make presentations on what they have read.
3. Rehearse drills to improve research, public speaking, and writing skills.
Model UN revolves around three fundamental skills: research, public speaking, and writing (e.g. position papers, resolutions, and amendments). These three skills serve as the foundation for other important skills such as critical thinking and teamwork.
Here’s one drill for practicing all three skills. First, assign your entire team a single country, committee, and topic. To practice research, ask your team to put together a research binder; assign different parts of the binder to different students. To practice public speaking, ask each student to give a 1-minute opening speech during your next practice; it will be interesting to see how each student gives a different speech despite being assigned the same country, committee, and topic. And to practice collaborative writing, task your students with preparing one operative clause for your next practice, and then challenge them to write a resolution by the end of the practice.
You can change the country, committee, and topic with every practice or every month. By the end of the school year, your team will have taught each other about multiple countries, committees, and topics, and produced a cache of research binders in the process that you can use in future years.
- MUN Research Made Easy: 15 Things Every Delegate Should Have in their Research Binder
- How to Win Best Delegate: Frame Your Speeches
- Model UN Made Easy: How to Write a Resolution
4. Run “practice committees” and “mini-conferences.”
This is the most important way to train your team. To improve in anything, you need experience. If you want your team to improve in Model UN, then you have to give them more committee and conference experience. Besides attending more conferences, the only way to gain experience to run your own practice committees (also called practice simulations or night debates) and host mini-conferences (e.g. inviting neighboring schools to join your practice committees, or inviting other students at your school who aren’t on your Model UN team…yet).
If you know how to chair a committee, then all you have to do is give your entire team a committee and a topic, and assign each student a different country (use a background guide from a past conference you’ve attended, or you can find them online on various conference websites — the RHSMUN background guides are currently available). If you don’t know how to chair, but someone on your team does, then have that person run the practice committee. If no one knows how to chair a committee, then ask someone in your area to help you (e.g. experienced MUNers from a nearby school or university…or KFC and I if we’re in town!)
But if none of these options are feasible, you can still run your own committee even if you’ve never chaired one before. You don’t need rules of procedure or committee decorum; just think of a practice committee as a class discussion.
The discussion is about students sharing what they’ve learned about a global problem and brainstorming ideas on how to solve it. You don’t have to teach; let your students teach one another. Your job is to moderate the discussion, deciding who gets to speak and making sure they don’t speak for too long. Don’t call them students, call them delegates; they don’t just raise their hands, they raise placards; and don’t call them by name, call them by country. If you know how to teach, then you already know how to chair.
5. Keep score of past performances.
Finally, it’s not enough to simply gain more experience in order to improve; you and your team have to learn from your experience. Teams typically do this by holding a discussion at the next meeting right after a conference. Students provide feedback on what they liked or didn’t like about the conference. They also discuss their experience in committee and with students from other schools, then offer each other advice on how to improve and what to do better next time.
A more precise way to review past performance is using video. Try recording 1- or 2-minute clips of your students making speeches or caucusing during a conference. It doesn’t have to be HD-quality; use your iPhone or smartphone. After the conference, review the video as a team and provide each other feedback.
But if you really want to get scientific about helping your team improve, then you need to measure your performance with metrics. Athletes have scores and statistics to tell them where they need to improve, but this is not as clear in Model UN.
The most obvious metric is awards: whether a student won an award, how many students won awards, how many of each type of award, and how do these metrics change with every conference and every school year. Apparently, some teams now use the Best Delegate Rankings as a performance metric!
But awards and rankings are not the only metrics in Model UN. Simple but helpful metrics include how many speeches a student gives and whether a student sponsors a resolution; these tell you how active your student is in committee. Another metric is test scores; I had Model UN as a class in high school and my advisor tested us regularly about various current events, committees, countries, and topics.
Realize that “what gets measured, gets managed.” You and your team should decide what you value and where you want to improve — whether its awards, participation, or learning — and find a way to measure your improvement.
This part of my series on How to Teach Model UN. Do you like my sports analogy? Or do you have a sports tip you want to share? Leave your comments and questions below!