The Model United Nations is a programme that allows students to take on the role of delegates from specific countries, learn about international issues, and discuss these issues from the point of view of their chosen country. The 4 core skills (reading, writing, speaking & listening) are practised and improved both during the research sessions and the actual UN conference itself. Weeks before the conference, delegates will conduct research into their country, the topic to be talked about, and their country’s opinions on the issues at hand. When the time comes for the meeting, delegates will discuss the issues on the agenda, and try to put forward resolutions to solve these problems; resolutions which will need to be voted on if they are to be passed. So the delegates must negotiate with each other, trying to secure a “Yes” vote for their resolution. The end of the conference leaves the students with a heightened knowledge of international issues, and problems that they might not otherwise have known about. It also leaves them realising that things they do in their own country can affect global issues such as global warming or child soldiers.
Although the MUN only began in 1945, model conferences were being held much before that, with students taking on the role of countries in the League of Nations from the 1920s. Initially, the MUN started in the USA, and it remains very popular there both in high schools and universities. Although not well known in Europe, conferences are starting to increase in number and size. This year over 200,000 students will take part in over 400 MUN conferences in around 50 countries in the world. The main conference in Japan is the All Japan MUN (AJMUN), which features around 300 students from 50 high schools throughout the country. Koyo Prefectural Senior High School also runs 1 or 2 conferences throughout the year in Okinawa, to which delegates from other Okinawan high schools are invited. These conferences usually feature around 50 students, with each student being a delegate for a separate country.
Creating or joining an MUN conference
The MUN conference should be the goal for both teachers and students in this programme. Whether the MUN is performed as a club activity, or a classroom-taught subject, everything should be focused towards the MUN conference and emphasising the importance of students taking an active part in the meeting.
Topic: The first thing that needs to be determined for an MUN conference is the topic to be discussed. This could be a very specific issue, such as “The North Korea Nuclear Problem”, or it could be a much wider-ranging topic, such as “Global Warming” or “Resource Conflicts”. If you are creating your own conference, some thought must be put into the topic by teachers. Too general a topic could result in a conference which takes too long and doesn’t result in a good final resolution. Too specific a topic could result in a conference which is over in a couple of hours. At Koyo SHS, the classroom conferences usually last between 10 and 14 hours. Be creative with the ways you introduce your topic: in 2007 the students talked about, “Conflict diamonds and how to stop future resource conflicts”. As an introduction to this topic, the students watched the film, Blood Diamond. This achieved a number of goals: the students were watching and listening to a film in English, they were learning about their MUN agenda item, and they didn’t feel like they were in a classroom lesson. If you are joining a conference hosted by another school, the issues of choosing a topic are not relevant to you.
Country selection: This is a very big thing to think about for your MUN conferences. You really want to create a good geographical spread of countries that will take part in the conference. A good example of this would be choosing 25% of countries from North & South America, 25% from Europe, 25% from Asia & Oceania, and 25% from Africa. Also try to have an even number of developed and developing countries in the conference – if you don’t it could make discussions very one-sided. Also, think about the countries involved in the topic at hand. For example, if your topic is global warming, you would want to include both the world’s largest polluters, and the countries which are feeling the effects of global warming, no matter how small. Here it is good to emphasize to students that all countries have an equal standing in the UN, and they all get one vote. So smaller countries have as much power as larger ones.
Research: Once students have chosen/been allocated their country, this is where the work for them begins. Their aim is to create a Position Paper – a speech detailing their country’s background, their country’s opinion on the issue to be discussed, and possible actions they feel the UN should take. A lot of research should be undertaken, and it could be done in 3 parts. Firstly, the country is researched so that the students know about where they are delegates from. For some countries this is easy, but do many students know where Maldives or Angola is? To start them thinking about this, the students can be given a worksheet to fill in about their chosen country. Students can then make a presentation of their country to their class, so that everyone starts to understand where each country is. The presentation shouldn’t be too indepth to start with; introduce the country’s name, location, flag, and then something more interesting for the students to research and present, like the language for example. If the students are of a high level then you can ask them to present more detailed information about their country.
Once the students have a fairly solid foundation about their country, they can start to research the topic. It should be stressed though that the students need to know and remember information about their country. If the student can’t remember who their country’s leader is or if their country is a developed or developing country, they will struggle in the MUN conference. The foundations of knowledge need to be made here as everything from here on will be building on that. Knowledge can be tested by a test on their chosen country. Researching the MUN topic is first done on a general and global scale (i.e. not specifically relating to their country).
Teachers need to be actively involved in this part of the research, and information should be given to the students in the form of reading assignments. The teacher will need to do extensive research on the topic, as students will expect them to have answers to their questions. It will also help you direct the students own research. Be aware that there will be a lot of new words for the students, and the meanings should be made clear. If the topic is large, students could be asked to make a presentation about a certain aspect of it. This will allow them to focus their research a little, and then learn from the presentations made by others. Teachers should stress that presentation giving, listening and note-taking skills are vital for a good MUN delegate.
When students are doing research on the topic, encourage research to be done in English. This may be more difficult initially, but will help them during the conference when they have to talk about these things in English. And once again, be creative with how you get the students to research topics. This year, Koyo students were asked to contact jewellery shops all over Japan by phone,and ask them where their diamonds came from, and what their policy was on conflict diamonds. The students were not keen on this initially, but it was very successful and will be continued and built upon in forthcoming conferences. Depending on the class type, you can incorporate skits or drama so the students can illustrate parts of the topic they will discuss.
The final part of research is joining the 2 previous parts. The students now have to look at the topic and how it affects their country. This is the part of research where some students will become frustrated. Because, for example, there is no direct relationship between the UK and child soldiers, they may think there is nothing to talk about. But encourage the students to think and look deeper. Maybe the weapons the child soldiers use are made by British companies. Maybe the resources they are fighting for are used in western goods; the demand for these goods and the resources are high, so the conflicts and killings continue. Even if a country has no relationship at all with the issue, encourage the student. This gives them the chance to be completely neutral in the conference and to find a solution that is best for everyone. The students should be working towards making a position paper. This is a 2-3 minute (usually) speech which is made up of 3 parts:
- A very brief introduction to the country.
- Information on the problem and how it affects their country.
- A general idea of how the problem can be solved.
You may notice slight differences in speech templates found online and the position paper your students actually make. This is because there is no set position paper. If a delegate wants to talk about the problems only, without talking about their country and a possible solution, that is their choice and they are free to do so.
A common problem you will find when students start taking on the role of delegates and talking about their country is that they are often too honest! They often continue to look at the issue from a neutral point of view and will criticise their own nation. For example, you may have the delegate from Burma/Myanmar stating to the UN that they admit to committing many human rights abuses as one of the first parts of their position paper. This is a difficult problem to overcome, and you just have to keep encouraging students to think as if they were from their chosen country. Hopefully they will start to understand and will refine their speeches appropriately.
Regional Bloc Meetings: As the MUN conference draws closer, and position papers are completed, students should continue to research the topic. If possible, teachers should search for news articles relating to the subject and present them to students. This is also the time for regional bloc meetings to take place, if possible. In this meeting, all of the delegates from one continent will come together and talk about the problem. They will present their position paper in small groups, and then hold short Q&A sessions. Their position papers must be given in English, but it is possible to allow students to ask questions in Japanese in these meetings. A clear understanding of the issue and countries’ opinions is more important than practising their English listening skills at this time.
The MUN Conference
The Model UN conference, the climax of the students’ and teachers’ work always arrives much earlier than you expected. One of the first things that need to be done is the Chair & secretary has to prepare for the meeting. The Chair is usually chosen in advance of the meeting, and should given some tuition by teachers on how to prepare for the conference, the structure of the conference, and phrases they will need to use throughout. Delegates are given a similar phrase sheet with phrases they will need to use during the conference. Placards are then given to each student with their country’s name written on it. This placard will be raised when voting and when delegates wish to make motions during the conference.
An MUN meeting has a fairly standard format for delegates to follow. Sometimes there will be changes in the format, but if so these will be announced at the start of the meeting.
Roll call: The role call will happen at the start of every day/class of the meeting. It is simply a register of which countries are present in the meeting. The chair will call out the country’s name, and the country will reply by raising their placard and calling out, “Present”. This will be continued until all countries have been read out. If any country is absent, it should be noted down by the chair for future reference.
Speakers’ list: Once roll call has been completed, the speakers list is opened. This is a list noted down on a board or projector screen for all to see, showing which countries are in line to give a speech. Any student who wants to make a speech (i.e. initially, to give their position paper) should raise their placard. The chair will read the names of the countries which raised their placards. As their country names are read, delegates will put down their placards and the secretary will write their name down in order. This order will be the order of speeches in the conference. If a delegate wishes to make a speech after the first speakers list has been made, they may write a note to the chair asking to be put onto the speakers list.
Speakers’ time: Once the speakers list has been created, a time for the speeches needs to be decided upon. Usually this is between 2 and 3 minutes. The process for this can take one of two forms. Firstly, a delegate may propose a time limit for speeches and then an immediate vote is taken for people who agree or disagree (no abstentions). Alternatively, 4 short speeches may be made (2 in favour and 2 opposed) after a speech time has been proposed and before the voting takes place.
Formal Debate/Position Papers: Now is the time for students to come to the fore and start their speeches. The first country on the speakers list will come to the front of the room and present their position paper in front of all the delegates and the chair. Delegates not giving a speech should listen carefully to the speeches, make notes and not talk. The information given in the position papers will be useful for everyone when it comes to talking about solutions. If the speaker does not speak loudly or clearly, one of the other delegates or the chair should interrupt and ask them to speaker louder/more clearly.
Caucus: One of the most active parts of the meeting, although it is regarded by some delegates as being a break. This is where a lot of the work is done and discussions are held. The caucus must be motioned for by a delegate and must be voted on (delegates must vote yes or no; there are no abstentions). A caucus is a meeting for a certain length of time (usually 5-15 minutes) where students are allowed to walk around the room, and talk freely to anyone they please. In these sessions, opinions are sought, questions raised and solutions discussed. It is also the time when working papers and draft resolutions are created by the delegates. The students should be allowed to talk in Japanese if they wish during these sessions (this is the only part of the conference in which this is allowed), and any students sat around and not talking to anyone should be encouraged to participate.
Informal Debate: Informal debate is the 3rd type of meeting in the UN conference, and is similar to a Q&A session. It is usually requested after a working paper or a draft resolution has been submitted to the floor. The caucus must be motioned for by a delegate and must be voted on (delegates must vote yes or no; there are no abstentions). In this meeting, students may ask questions to specific delegates or to all delegates as a whole. To do this they must raise their placard and call out, “Chair!”. If the chair then calls their country’s name the delegate may speak to the floor. They may also make comments about things they have seen or heard in the meeting. If a delegate is asked a question, they are encouraged (but not forced) to answer the question as best they can. This is where the listening and quick thinking skills are very important. It should also be noted that a question does not have to be answered before another question is asked.
Notes: During the formal and informal parts of the meeting, there is no talking allowed unless it is talking to the floor and speaking to everyone. But sometimes students need to contact each other to talk about ideas they have. Because of this, notes are used. A delegate will write their message on a piece of paper and then hand it to a page, a student or teacher assigned to pickup and deliver notes. The student must remember to write who the message is from as well as who it is to. As the meeting becomes more indepth, messages will frequently be sent around the room, and more than one page is usually needed.
Working Paper: This is the first big step in finding a solution to the problem. A working paper is an idea, put forward to all of the delegates by one or more countries. It can describe one specific solution to the problem, or a general outline of the problem and solutions they want to find. There is also no format to the working paper, which means diagrams, pictures, tables, charts etc can be used. The only things that the working paper needs are a working paper number (usually WP1, WP2, WP3 etc), and information about which countries wrote the paper.
The paper must first be submitted to the chair, who will make photocopies of it. When this has been done, the sponsor (the delegate(s) who wrote it) may motion to the Chair that they wish to introduce their working paper. The sponsor of it will be asked if they wish to orally explain their paper. If they choose to, the sponsors would come to the front of the room and explain the paper. Once a working paper has been submitted to the floor, it is likely that a motion will be made for either a caucus (so people can take time reading the paper) or informal debate (so questions and comments on the paper may start). If there are neither of these, after the paper has been introduced the meeting will go back to formal debate.
Draft Resolution: The most difficult and complex part of any UN conference is also the most important: making a draft resolution. This is a detailed plan which talks about the issues discussed in the meeting, and a range of measures that should be taken to deal with them. The most difficult part of the draft resolution is that it must follow a strict format, and has a number of set rules, the most important of which are given below:
- The draft resolution must have one sentence only. It doesn’t matter whether the draft resolution is 5 lines long or 5 pages long, it will only have one sentence. Phrases and clauses in the resolution are separated using commas (,) and semi-colons (;).
- The draft resolution needs a document number. This is usually something like DR1 or DR2 and a number will be given to the draft resolution by the Chair.
- The draft resolution needs sponsors and signatories. Put simply, sponsors are countries that agree with all of the draft resolution. Signatories, on the other hand, are countries that agree with some, but not all, of the draft resolution. The total number of sponsors and signatories must be 25% or over the total number of countries taking part in the meeting.
- The draft resolution must have 2 parts:
- Part 1 talks about the problem and what is happening regarding it (the preambletory clauses).
- Part 2 talks about the solution and what will be done about it (the operative clauses).
- The last part of the draft resolution must read, “Decides to remain seized of this matter.”
Another issue involved in the draft resolution is the wording used at the start of each clause. Words of varying strength may be used depending on the situation and what the delegate is talking about. Examples of the words which can be used at the start of each clause in a draft resolution are shown below:
– Alarmed by
– Noting with regret
– Noting with deep concern
– Calls upon
Draft Resolution amendments: Sometimes a UN meeting will allow changes to be made after draft resolutions have been submitted. These are called amendments. This means that a country may offer a change to the draft resolution (an addition, modification or deletion). There are 2 types of amendment: friendly and unfriendly.
Friendly – This means that the sponsors of the draft resolution agree with the change being made. The amendment is automatically made to the draft resolution.
Unfriendly – The sponsors of the draft resolution do not agree with the change in the amendment. In this case, when voting takes place a vote will be made on the amendment, before the draft resolution is voted on.
If amendments are going to be used in the meeting, an amendment form is usually available for delegates to use. This form includes what country is making the amendment, what the change is they want to make, and whether it is a friendly or unfriendly amendment.
A delegate will write the amendment and then pass it to sponsors of the draft resolution. They will decide if it is friendly or unfriendly (i.e. if they agree or disagree with the changes made), and will return it. The delegate who wrote the amendment will then submit it to the Chair. The Chair then reads the amendment and approves it, before submitting it to the floor. When it is submitted, the amendment’s author has the chance of explaining to the floor why they want this amendment to be made.
Closing the debate: After a resolution and amendments have been introduced and have been debated fully, it will be time to vote on them. But before voting, the speakers’ list must be closed, and then debate should be closed so that voting can start. This will require delegates to motion for the speakers’ list to be closed (and the motion voted on) and then that debate should be closed (and similarly, voted on).
Voting: The final part of the UN conference comes in the form of voting. Firstly, any unfriendly amendments will be voted on (with a yes/no/abstention vote). Then, the draft resolutions are voted on in the order they were introduced. Countries will be asked to vote aloud in alphabetical order. There are 4 different ways that delegates can vote: yes/no/abstention/pass. If a delegate chooses to “pass”, then the chair will continue asking other countries. When the list has been completed, the chair will come back to the delegates who passed in the first round. Note that a delegate may only choose to pass once. If the number of “Yes” votes exceeds the number of “No” votes, regardless of the abstentions, the motion passes in the General Assembly and Economic & Social Council. In the Security council, a 66% majority of votes are needed for a draft resolution to pass. Remember that in the Security Council only, permanent members (China, France, Russia, UK and USA) have a veto vote. This means that if one of these countries votes “No” to a draft resolution, it cannot pass, regardless of how many “Yes” votes it received.
Once voting is completed, there will be a motion to adjourn the meeting, and the meeting will be closed.
I hope that gave you some insights as to how to implement the Model United Nations course into your school’s syllabus. I highly recommend the course,especially in areas where students may not usually have a global outlook.