The aim of session two of Debate-Ed is to learn about rebuttal and counter-arguments. The students will already in the first session have practiced making arguments and speaking persuasively when expressing their own viewpoint. The second session focuses on listening to your opponent’s viewpoint and persuasively explaining why they are wrong and you are right. This is a really important skill for the children to learn. In order to build effective counter-arguments, you need to have good listening skills, the ability to analyse another’s argument and to understand how to adequately respond to it.


The Difference between Counter-Arguments and Arguments

A good way to visualise the difference between counter-arguments and arguments is to imagine a pile of bricks. When a speaker is making their argument, they are constructing a tower of bricks which will be strengthened by supportive examples and good analysis. In contrast, when a speaker is counter-arguing, they will be attempting to knock down the other speaker’s tower of bricks. The ideal result is that by the end of the debate, you have a strong tall tower and have knocked the other speaker’s tower into a pile of rubble.

Counter-Arguments and Skills

For a number of the activities the students are not allowed to choose which side of the argument they wish to be on. Instead they are randomly allocated whether they are for or against a topic. This can be very challenging as it is difficult to argue against something that you actually agree with. However, it is an important exercise to engage with as learning how to argue against your own viewpoint forces you to consider whether that viewpoint is valid and whether you have good reasons for that viewpoint. This can also help students to develop understanding of a range of issues and that few things are clearly right or wrong. There are often good arguments both for and against something.

Furthermore, understanding why an opponent might disagree with you and the points they might raise, may help you to understand how to beat those arguments. For instance, one of this week’s topics is about banning boxing. It may be that you inherently believe that boxing should not be banned as it is a good form of exercise and a good outlet for energy and aggression. However, your opponent might argue that we should definitely ban boxing because it's a dangerous sport that causes injuries. If you understand that this is an argument they might make, you can then prepare your counter-argument. For instance you might argue that we shouldn’t ban a sport just because it carries the risk of injury as there are a number of different sports that carry the risk of injury. A runner might injure their legs by over exerting themselves, a ballet dancer may cause lasting damage to their feet, a snowboarder might suffer a terrible fall and a rugby player might be injured when tackled by their opponent. By making this counter-argument, you will help to combat their argument and hopefully win your debate.

Counter-Arguments and Tactics

One reason why counterarguments are important is that unless you explain why your opponent is wrong, there is a risk that the judge or audience will think that he is right. For instance during a debate, your opponent might says something that is clearly foolish or inaccurate. For example 100% people who participate in boxing suffer major injuries. Unless you combat that point and explain why it is not true or you disagree with it, your audience and the judges will not necessarily have understood that it was a silly point.

Debating and Counter-Arguments

Counter-arguments are a key feature of debates. Debating is not about making speeches in isolation, as if none of the other speakers are there. It is all about engaging with your opponent and explaining why they are wrong and you are right. A good speech will clearly identify and engage with the points that were made by the other speakers. Consequently, the content of the speech should change depending on the opponents. It should not be possible for the speaker to make the same speech regardless of what their opponents say. Instead a good speech should always take into account the material and points that were actually made by the other side.