Formal Debating Skills

Unlike public speaking, debating ensures the engagement of the whole class. From the two teams competing to the audience who can interact with Points of Information or Interest.  This week the English Department beaks trialled more formal debating skills with their Shell classes with respect to two debates on a text which they are studying for their end of year exam.  As well as being a welcome break from practising written essays, debating requires pupils to define their terms; formulate arguments using logic and reason to then extend those arguments; and to work together as a team to produce the most coherent analysis.  Within this respectful atmosphere of competition, pupils also thrive at the opportunity to rebut their opponents’ arguments and tell them just how wrong they are!

The debates this week covered the set text ‘Macbeth’ and two motions were debated.  The first was the extent to which Macbeth can be considered a tragic hero.  Ethan Choi for the Proposition started by outlining Macbeth’s noble stature and how this categorically defines his worthiness to be considered a classical tragic protagonist.  Surya Singh, first speaker for the Opposition, gave some compelling rebuttal on how his nobility was a sham and how by never admitting to his mistake, Macbeth lacks the moment of recognition of his fatal flaw, hence excluding him from the classification.  Furthermore, her rhetorical questions and humour put the Proposition on the defensive.  All speakers argued with purpose and sharp analytical points that made for a very tight match, supporting their arguments with close textual references and concise ideas.  Dominic Sullivan summarized the points of clash and provided a very neat synopsis of the motion.  The rest of the class judged the debate and voted that the Opposition team won on slightly stronger arguments and greater confidence in delivery.

The second motion proposed that ‘Women are the root of all evil in Macbeth.’ Sophia Riaz led an all-female team of proponents of this motion who painted the witches and Lady Macbeth as arch manipulators and catalysts. Hannah Lee described them hiding their evil and cunning under the guise of beauty and innocent femininity. Kaitlyn Strika gave some fascinating details regarding the historical portrayal of women as evil and Layla Timimi provided a precise and effective summary. However, the Opposition team fought back with some excellent points. ‘Shouldn’t Macbeth take responsibility for his own actions?’ asked Carolyn Chessher.  ‘Surely, Macbeth’s ambition was the root of all evil’ replied Ella Boschler and Jasmine Lim. ‘Were the witches even female?’ asked Theodore Elliott in his summary. The Opposition team was judged the winner but it was a closely contested debate and it was fantastic to see such confidence and secure knowledge of the text.

We hope that by engaging young people in the rigour of debate that we are able to hone their analytical skills and empower them as speakers and to take a proactive approach to their own learning.

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