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Curriculum


With fewer than four students per instructor, the VBI curriculum is optimized to help each student achieve their debate potential. Each student works closely with a faculty mentor and in small lab groups, participates in and observes numerous debates, attends over a dozen electives on a wide variety of topics, and has daily opportunities to work with any staff member they choose. 

Note: because we are always striving to improve, we do make some changes to our curriculum every summer. 

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Curriculum


With fewer than four students per instructor, the VBI curriculum is optimized to help each student achieve their debate potential. Each student works closely with a faculty mentor and in small lab groups, participates in and observes numerous debates, attends over a dozen electives on a wide variety of topics, and has daily opportunities to work with any staff member they choose. 

Note: because we are always striving to improve, we do make some changes to our curriculum every summer. 

The way the camp itself was structured was what really put it ahead of any other. The lab leaders, lectures, modules, and the housing all culminated into something so enjoyable and yet so beneficial. I personally believe this camp will be key to debate success in any debater’s future.
— Andrew Ahn

Scroll down to learn why coaches, parents, and students love the VBI curriculum. 

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Mentorship


"I really liked VBI because of the mentorship program; it was really awesome to meet with my mentor and mentor team everyday to check it. It was really nice to have someone rooting for you other than your lab leaders who are always willing to help. It is something really special about VBI."

—Margaret Purcell

Mentorship


"I really liked VBI because of the mentorship program; it was really awesome to meet with my mentor and mentor team everyday to check it. It was really nice to have someone rooting for you other than your lab leaders who are always willing to help. It is something really special about VBI."

—Margaret Purcell

My mentor was absolutely incredible. He debated in a way that was really interesting to me and that I really wanted to learn more about, so it was a really good fit. More generally, he was very enthusiastic and available and was willing to adapt as much as possible to do exactly what I wanted to do. He was amazing and probably made my camp experience.
— Julie Engel

At the start of camp, every student at VBI is assigned a faculty mentor based on their interests and goals. Students meet with their mentor every day to discuss their progress throughout camp. The mentor program provides continuous feedback and oversight of each student's personal curriculum. 

Other camps provide mentors, if at all, only to the most experienced students or to some other subset of students. At VBI, every student has a mentor. 

NSDA PF champion Ron Lubarski meets with his mentor team at VBI Chicago. 

NSDA PF champion Ron Lubarski meets with his mentor team at VBI Chicago. 

In addition to one-on-one meetings with their mentor, students also meet with their mentor as a group to debrief at the end of each day. Students who share the same mentor are, in many ways, a team throughout camp. Mentor teams are comprised of three or four students from different levels of experience, in order to simulate an actual team experience. The mentor is, in some respects, the students' coach throughout camp—not only helping each student directly, but also helping students to help each other. This facilitates peer learning and builds important skills that are often neglected at debate camp. 

 

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Lab


VBI’s lab leaders are the best in the nation.

Matthew Cha

Lab


VBI’s lab leaders are the best in the nation.

Matthew Cha

A VBI Chicago novice lab led by Harvard Law student Mira Chernick and Harvard College student (and TOC champion) Danny DeBois.  

A VBI Chicago novice lab led by Harvard Law student Mira Chernick and Harvard College student (and TOC champion) Danny DeBois.  

Every student at VBI is placed in a lab based on their skill, experience, and personal interests. Lab acts as a student's home base, where they focus on developing core debate skills, mastering the practical application of technical concepts, and strategizing about scenarios they are likely to face during the year. Students spend more time in lab than anywhere else, and as a result a debater's closest friends (both during camp and beyond) are often their labmates. 

VBI is dedicated to teaching students the skills to succeed in debate, at any experience level or circuit. We have multiple small labs of 8 to 12 students dedicated to instruction at each of the Novice, Varsity, Advanced Varsity, and Top Lab levels. We have labs that specialize in skills for the national circuit and various local circuits. VBI Curriculum Directors spend over 100 hours placing students with peers and instructors that will help them to achieve their competitive and educational goals.

Students who attend VBI receive top-quality instruction, no matter how much prior experience they have. Every lab at VBI is taught by coaches and former competitors with a proven track record of success on every kind of circuit.

“I came to VBI to get better at debate and that certainly happened. Instructors are widely available for drills, lectures are engaging and varied, and lab is an excellent anchor to your personal growth. This camp has helped me grow by leaps and bounds, and I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to do the same.”
— Akhil Jalan
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Modules


With hundreds of elective offerings, VBI allows you to design your own curriculum tailored to your unique goals and interests, under the guidance of our faculty. 

Modules


With hundreds of elective offerings, VBI allows you to design your own curriculum tailored to your unique goals and interests, under the guidance of our faculty. 

Last year VBI offered over 250 module choices throughout the summer, with topics ranging from academic fields (e.g., economics, international relations, Kantian ethics, and political philosophy) to skills workshops (e.g., research, flowing, crystallizing, weighing, etc.) and formats ranging from lecture and discussion seminar to drills and other exercises.

With so many options and such a diverse teaching staff, students have the opportunity to learn about nearly any debate subject from an expert instructor. To view our comprehensive module list from VBI 2015, click here

VBI is one of the few places where everyone on the staff cares about making you better at debate. There’s such a wide variety of staff members that know about all forms of arguments. It’s really easy to individualize your own curriculum and seek out the staff members and modules that will help you improve.
— Danny DeBois (2014 TOC Champion)
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Socrates Hours


"I thought that VBI would be super stressful and that I would be struggling to keep up with other people in my lab, but having access to the whole staff, especially during Socrates Hours, helped me confront my weaknesses and seek to better them."

Srija Reddy

Socrates Hours


"I thought that VBI would be super stressful and that I would be struggling to keep up with other people in my lab, but having access to the whole staff, especially during Socrates Hours, helped me confront my weaknesses and seek to better them."

Srija Reddy

A crowd gathers around instructor Danny DeBois (2014 TOC Champion) during Socrates Hours.

A crowd gathers around instructor Danny DeBois (2014 TOC Champion) during Socrates Hours.

A student favorite for the past decade, Socrates Hours provide another opportunity for students to create their own VBI experience. Socrates Hours is our more spontaneous, informal alternative to the rigid practice of office hours. During Socrates Hours, the entire VBI staff is available to answer questions, give feedback on drills, review modules, or just talk about debate. Some chats during Socrates Hours even turn into impromptu lectures. 

Instructors Peter Van Elyswk and Stephen Babb meet with students during Socrates Hours. 

Instructors Peter Van Elyswk and Stephen Babb meet with students during Socrates Hours. 

 

 

 

At Socrates Hours, students can work with any VBI instructor, and most students get help from multiple instructors during any given session. Many instructors also permit, but do not require, appointments to meet at Socrates Hours.

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Rounds


"VBI makes it really clear that it isn't about how good you were, but how good you're getting. The community here never lets you forget that you're always making progress, and makes a camp that lets you have fun while improving at debate."

— Kathy Wang

Rounds


"VBI makes it really clear that it isn't about how good you were, but how good you're getting. The community here never lets you forget that you're always making progress, and makes a camp that lets you have fun while improving at debate."

— Kathy Wang

VBI Instructor Christian Quiroz judges a practice debate at VBI Swarthmore.

VBI Instructor Christian Quiroz judges a practice debate at VBI Swarthmore.

Lectures and drills only go so far; the best way to learn is by doing. Students participate in at least ten (LD) or twenty (PF) practice rounds throughout camp. 

Practice rounds are a great place to try out new concepts learned at camp, and get concrete feedback from qualified critics. Students will be paired against others at a similar skill level to ensure that each student gets the most out of each round.

During the season, debaters are often frustrated by incomplete judge feedback that leaves them guessing what they did wrong and how best to improve. At VBI students receive in-depth post round comments after every debate. Every judge is focused on helping each debate understand the concrete steps they need to take to reach the next level. Also, after each debate a student's lab leaders and mentor will receive written feedback from the judge, so that they can tailor their lessons to each students unique needs. 

Curriculum Director Christian Tarsney moderates a demo debate between instructors Anne-Marie Hwang and Lawrence Zhou.

Curriculum Director Christian Tarsney moderates a demo debate between instructors Anne-Marie Hwang and Lawrence Zhou.

In addition to their own rounds, throughout camp students observe debates between some of the best debaters in the country. Some demo debates are between staff and are moderated by senior instructors; others are between high-level students and are optional to observe. For some students watching another debater properly apply a concepts or strategy in real debate is all they need for it to "click."

Demo debates are often used as "props," or examples for lab or mentor assignments. Attentive observation of demo debates involves careful flowing, thinking about both sides' arguments and strategic choices, and simulating the round afterwards via drills in lab.