Turning the tables to your opponents

Timothy Chui
Timothy Chui |

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Three native English teachers outline key areas a debating team should focus on, if they are to win the battle of words

A debate isn't won on the logic of a team's arguments alone. But by putting forward well-prepared arguments, a team can better protect themselves from rebuttals by their opponents, said Brian MacLean, native English teacher at Yan Oi Tong Tin Ka Ping Secondary School.

Students should look at their team's stance from as many different angles as possible. Thinking about a topic's social, political, economic, religious and moral implications is a good starting point, MacLean said.

'At the same time students should always be thinking of good examples to support [their arguments],' he said.

MacLean cited a recent inter-school debate on the topic of fung shui in which students referred to the court battle over late tycoon Nina Wang Kung Yu-sum's estate. If students were confronted with the motion 'Celebrities are not good people', he said they should look at different viewpoints, such as how the government uses them in public service announcements and if it's morally right to use famous people this way.

"They should conduct a practice debate which could expose any flaws in their arguments"

Other arguments could include economic aspects, such as whether they deserve to make millions because of their celebrity status.

'Examples from [Leon] Lai Ming to Madonna to Michael Jordan abound,' MacLean said.

Native English teacher at Pentecostal Lam Hon Kwong School Ilona Pochwyt said after debaters have a firm grasp of the motion and its different facets, they need to check if their ideas are still relevant and follow up with some research.

'Wikipedia is useful for a general background [of the topic], for example, if they need to understand the background to the Olympics,' Pochwyt said.

Students can also use old newspaper clippings in library archives or online resources such as Wise News to brush up their knowledge on the subject. Online debating website Debatabase is another useful tool, she said, with arguments provided for and against motions.

After the research, team members should share their information, adding examples and references to their arguments.

'This is also a good time to look again at the motion and ... define it, and also [look] for possible words in the motion that can be used to get an angle on the debate,' Pochwyt said.

For example, a motion such as 'Politics should be left out of the Olympic Games' shows this is desirable but impossible in reality because everything has a political element, she said. From there, students need to develop a team strategy, a simple statement which encapsulates their arguments and can be used to highlight their points during the debate.

Finally, the arguments need to be grouped into two halves which the first and second speaker will present, Pochwyt said.

According to Ian Sanderson, native English teacher at TWGHs Kap Yan Directors' College, by this stage, students should be preoccupied with their debate topic, and ideas often come at odd times, He said it would be useful to carry a notebook and pen to jot down ideas that may pop up and then share them with teammates.

Practice is very important for debaters, Sanderson said. If possible, they should conduct a practice debate which could expose any flaws in their arguments, points that need to be addressed, which rebuttals to anticipate and how to disprove them.

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