Guide to MUN
Model United Nations can be a rewarding experience to both sponsors and students. By building research and communication skills, Model UN trains students to address problems with critical thinking. While historically Model UN has been found in High School and Universities, Middle School Model UN has increased in frequency. The William & Mary Middle School Model United Nations Conference has broken attendance records with nearly every successive year, and sustaining middle school Model UN programs is vitally important to continuing this trend.
In this guide, we have compiled a basic overview to many of the aspects of creating, maintaining or growing a Model UN club along with basic delegate preparation for conferences. Ultimately, there are five main parts to sponsoring a Model UN team: recruitment, logistical planning, chaperoning, public speaking coaching and research assistance. Feel free to contact any members of the WMIDMUN Secretariat for further guidance in growing your own Model UN program.
Basics of Model United Nations
Model United Nations is a simulation experience in which students assume the role of delegates in a deliberative body. Traditionally, this body is the United Nations (and the majority of committees which delegates can be assigned to at Model UN conferences will reflect this), but additionally other special-settings and bodies are used within the context of Model UN. Some examples include the League of Nations, the World Bank, NATO, the US Senate or more informal bodies such as the Congress of Vienna, the Arctic Council or the President’s Cabinet.
In all cases, delegates will be called on to research and speak on topics pertaining to that body’s jurisdiction and oversight. Students have the opportunity to engage in discussion and debate on potential solutions to problems and propose implementation of policies. Additionally, Model UN conferences simulate the aspect of role-playing on top of problem-solving as delegates represent a specific set of interests – such as existing countries, powerful individuals, or even fictitious personas with a backstory.
Explaining and Justifying a Model UN Program
A Model UN Program can give students exposure to an intense problem-solving setting at the Middle School level. Such a program can have incredible benefits to three particular groups: students, teachers and the school as a whole. Stressing the distinct benefits to all involved may help trigger support by faculty and administration into supporting a Model UN Program.
For students, some benefits include:
The ability to improve public speaking confidence and oratory abilities
Practice writing in a professional style designed to stress clarity and specificity
Exposure to current events, history and researching specific issue areas
Increase educational goals by travel exposure to top-ranked Universities
Further, sponsors have indicated there are many faculty benefits to beginning a Model UN program, such as:
Engaging in higher-level curriculum than traditionally offered in a middle school setting by helping students prepare for conferences
Earning recognition for successes by the program
Resume building by demonstrating extracurricular development above and beyond basic teaching responsibilities
Finally, schools and school districts benefit from a Model UN program in several ways:
Promoting thought on international issues to improve the overall academic environment of schools
Ability to point to competitive successes of such programs
Meet parental and student demand for extracurricular activities
While many Middle School students who travel to Model UN conferences end up incredibly enjoying their time, being able to recruit students to be willing to do so in the first place is important. Several recruitment strategies (aside from direct marketing such as fliers, posters, and word-of-mouth to students) may be conducted either when first starting a MUN team or when attempting to grow one.
Firstly, soliciting referrals from teachers regarding potential students is a good initial strategy to reach would-be MUN team members. Emailing or conversing with other faculty members about a desire to start an MUN club may lead students who have been particularly vocal in class or have demonstrated strong writing or research abilities to be directed towards Model United Nations. Importantly, note that this is to refer individuals to a club and should not be approached or seen as a system in which teachers must nominate students in order to join a club (i.e. avoid terms such as “nominate”, “recommendation,” etc. to prevent the appearance of an exclusive or competitive nature of selection which can deter other students from joining).
Secondly, integrating MUN into the classroom can pique the interest of potential students. Activities may include simulating a debate in class or creating resolutions to address issues (see further in the guide for specific delegate preparatory activities). Potential classes in which MUN may be offered in an introductory setting include Civics and American History.
Finally, reaching directly to parents may also lead to recruitment for a MUN program. One way to do so is to reach out to a member of a school administration such as a Principal to discuss the possibility of emailing or through some other correspondence alerting parents of students about Model United Nations. Particularly when combined with mentioning the potential benefits outlined above, this strategy can serve to involve a greater number of individuals in the MUN program and drive up interest.
At its core, Model UN is an activity premised a great deal on speaking (this is not to discourage delegates as many who start the activity without strong communication abilities or with apprehension to public speaking often find that MUN improves those skills tremendously).
The basic Model UN speech is typically a short 30 second to 1-minute time in which delegates deliver main points and big ideas. Delegates should be comfortable standing in front of fellow students and staffers and be able to confidently articulate the crucial points of their advocacy. To this end, much of the sponsorship of a MUN club entails public speaking coaching to build students’ confidence and give them practice with the style of remarks they will be giving.
Below is a list of potential speaking drills and activities which may aid students in preparing for the speeches of Model UN.
Minute to Win It: The sponsor calls upon a student one at a time and assigns them a topic. To start off, make the topics simple such as a movie, TV show, musical artist, etc. and then move to more “MUN” topics. The student must extemporaneously speak about the topic without using any filler words (such as um, er, uh). The goal of this activity is to promote word variety and the drill may be undertaken in a fairly conversational tone without strict adherence to rigid speech structure. Even if students do not reach a minute, sponsors can make a game out of seeing who can last the longest before using a filler word.
Confidence Drills: As a warmup activity to boost confidence before practicing other speaking activities, one strategy involves having students stand up and make loud, declarative statements. An example would be having students stand up and project: “My Name is _______ and I can speak in public!” The point of this activity is a few fold. Firstly, it gets students comfortable with speaking up by having a simple statement to declare and doing it with others. Second, the statement should be some kind of positive reinforcement or self-esteem booster which, particularly with students at the middle school level, can cut through nervousness associated with standing and speaking – an activity many may have never had to do. Finally, the activity practices posture. Students stand up straight, practice placing their feet and assuming a standing position which would be comfortable to give a speech from and project their voices. Importantly, they should not be yelling but practice speaking loudly and projecting their voices. Sponsors should not be afraid to nit-pick posture and volume during this activity as students will likely not feel as self-conscious as compared to substantive speaking where criticism may be taken poorly, given the relative simplicity of the statements they’re saying.
Divide the Room: Pick a topic and assign half the room to one side of it and half the room to another. The topics can range from silly (“Spring is better than Summer”), to serious (“The United States should accept Syrian refugees”) to a blend of the two (“Superheroes should be allowed to act outside of government authority”). Pick one side and have one member of that side deliver a short (30 second max) speech advocating their side. Pick one member from the other side to respond/rebut and defend the other side of the topic. Continue alternating until every member of both sides of the room have spoken. Depending on what stage of preparation students are at, additional complications may be thrown into this drill such as:
Forcing delegates to speak in the third person while also defending their side (i.e. “The delegate believes”)
Assigning positions to the students immediately prior to the drill (ex. Make every student representative of a different country so they must reflect how such a country would react to a topic)
Making students’ speeches have to be directly responsive to the argument in the speech preceding theirs before they can make a new argument (i.e. must rebut something said by the prior speaker or else cannot move to talk about a different aspect of the topic)
Small Groups: In groups of 2-3, have students brainstorm a potential solution to some topic of the day. After some amount of preparation, have the group come to the front of the room and discuss their solution and its implementation. This activity is designed to practice quick problem-solving ideas as well as promote presentation of ideas in a speaking setting. More advanced versions of this drill can include a question-and-answer period following presentation as well as specific requirements on the proposed ideas.
Write a Speech: The sponsor announces a topic some amount of time before hand, either a day or so before if they wish to incorporate research into this activity, or 10 minutes beforehand to practice a simpler form of the activity. Students write a speech targeted for a minute length and then move to the front of the room to give it. Sponsors should try to simulate a realistic conference speech by requiring delegates to assume some position for the purpose of delivering said speech as well as staying in third person.
Bump: One person begins making a speech on a chosen topic. At any point in the speech, they can bump, or pass, to another person. This forces the students to pay attention, be able to come up with something to say at any time, and understand how to make opening, middle, and end parts of a speech. This is very similar to a classroom game called “popcorn.”
Randomized Topic: Each person writes a topic down on a slip of paper and drops it in a bowl. Topics could include affirmative action, vegetarianism, the best member of One Direction, mandatory vaccinations, nuclear energy, etc.—really anything that can get the delegates to start thinking on their feet. Next, one person steps up to the front of the room and pulls out a selected topic. They have 30 seconds to prepare points, and then they deliver a 45 second to 1 minute speech. When they are done, the person comes up and selects a slip of paper.
"Mary Quite Contrary”: The sponsor/leader sets a topic. This could start out with something fun and easy, like pirates vs. ninjas, and then later move to something related to current events, like “Should the U.S. lift the trade embargo against Cuba?” or something historical, like “Should the United States abolish slavery?” The first person makes a speech in favor of the topic, the next person makes a speech in opposition. This pattern continues until the last person has made their speech, creating an alternating for and against sequence. This exercise forces some students to defend something they disagree with--but they're still representing a perspective that somebody holds/held (e.g. for the last topic, a speech may begin "As a plantation owner, I think freeing the slaves would be disproportionately harmful to the Southern economy...")
Researching & Writing Position Papers
A large portion of preparing for conferences is to guide students through the research and writing process. Upon registration, sponsors will know the positions delegates are assigned to, including which committee and country/person they will be representing. Following this, it is incumbent on delegates to conduct research and draft position papers. Position papers are summaries of the stances which the nation or individual the student is representing believe in.
The paper writing process is aided by the publication of background guides by committee directors which will summarize information and cover the scope of the committee. However, in addition to using the background guide as a source, sponsors should steer delegates to authoritative news and information sources. Examples of such include: Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, The New York Times, and Google News Search.
Researching your position will vary depending on who or what you are representing. If your position is a country, as it will be in most General Assemblies and Regional Assemblies, a great place to start is the CIA World Factbook which gives a brief overview of a state’s government, demographics, geography, and other information. It is also helpful to check the state’s voting record on similar topics, investigate the laws in place there, and read about how the topic at hand specifically affects the country.
In Specialized Agencies, a delegate is often representing a person. A good starting point for this research is also Wikipedia, but make sure to move on to more credible and impartial sources. Books, government websites, and newspaper articles can all provide more detailed information about the person or position. Sometimes, the exact person is less important than the position itself and the portfolio powers that fall under that person’s purview.
One final aspect to keep in mind is the committee itself. Make sure to look into the purview of the body, what kind of resolutions it can pass, and the actions that the body has taken in the past. Any solutions that you propose must be within the power of your committee to enact.
Keeping all of this information in mind, write your position paper. This should help you to organize your thoughts better and guide your thinking for the weekend. Think about the types of solutions that would work with your position. Investigate some of the pros and cons associated with these solutions. This will leave you feeling better prepared to fully participate in your committee.
For further resources, check out the articles published on Best Delegate, an online site dedicated to helping students advance in Model UN.