3 tips on how to become a better debater

By Stan Dyer

There are numerous amounts of workshops designated to help students improve their debating skills

By Stan Dyer |

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Tai Chung Man Newman from Stewards Pooi Kei College from their finals debate last week.

From time to time you hear local people decrying Hong Kong students’ falling English standards. But there’s one part of primary and secondary English here that’s been roaring ahead in the past 10 years: debating.

In 2007, there were only 18 local school teams debating, but now there are more than 300, a 16-fold increase. Here are some tips to help improve your debating skills.

Starting young

It was great to see an accomplished S.2 debater, Arthur Chan from Wah Yah College, Hong Kong, join the recent finals of the Hong Kong Schools Debating and Public Speaking Championships (HKSDPSC) Junior Tournament at Chinese University.

Arthur started debating in the Hong Kong Secondary Schools Debating Competition’s (HKSSDC) Primary Section. At the time, he was a P.4 student at Pun U Association Wah Yan Primary School. He has been debating for four years now, and that experience is crucial when he competes in secondary school debates.

Now there are more than 160 “junior” teams, and many more are following in Arthur’s footsteps and staring to debate earlier.

There is also a Primary International Section to prepare young debaters to enter World Schools format tournaments when they reach secondary school. All this can help provide a more solid debating foundation for the future.

Joining workshops

If you’re a debater, you need to find new strategies to move ahead. There is a large choice of workshops (almost all arranged by HKSDPSC) catering for some 1,000 teachers and students each year.

Probably the most popular workshops have been those with live demonstration debates which help new teams understand the interaction and flow of a

debate. Over the past two years, there have also been motion analysis workshops run by University of Hong Kong debaters to help coaches explore a wider range of options in preparing their students for each debate.

Keep an eye out for details of the next workshop for new teams in Kowloon from 4.30 to 6pm on Friday, February 2. If you can’t attend workshops, trainers from university debating teams can be arranged to coach at your school. A number of CMI (Chinese medium of instruction) teams have made huge improvements over the past few years with this extra help.

Challenging yourself

Also, if your team is already good at Standard Format debates, you might like to join City University’s annual Discovery and Innovation Debating Challenge, or consider moving up to Enhanced Format (modified World Schools Format with Points of Information). This makes a nice stepping stone to modified World Schools Format tournaments and then on to World Schools Debating Championships (WSDC) selection in September each year.

With more than 95 per cent of the 320 HKSSDC coaches now having more than a year’s debate training experience, most are on the same page about the important features in adjudication. Also, with more than 150 primary-trained debaters joining junior secondary each year, and with more workshops, the quality of debating will continue to improve in the future.

Debating Bio: Stan Dyer has been coordinator of two debating competitions over ten years, first running and building up the NESTA-SCMP Debating Competition from 18 to 164 teams from 2007 to 2012. After that, he set up Hong Kong Secondary Schools Debating Competition (HKSSDC) and grew it from 0 to 300 primary and secondary teams from 2012 to 2017.

Edited by M.J. Premaratne