top of page

Rock On! Debate LD #6: Attacking Arguments in LD with Coach Marcus Viney

Time to go on attack against arguments made in LD!


Episode 6 Resources:

Episode 6 Handout
Download PDF • 54KB

Episode 6 Transcription:

My name is Marcus Viney, Head Coach of Cheyenne East, and this is, Episode 6:

Attacking Arguments!

In this episode, we’re talking about attacking arguments. In a debate, a “rebuttal” is the speech where you attack or respond to your opponent’s arguments. Let’s begin with some basic steps for giving a rebuttal. The first step is flowing, which means taking careful notes about what your opponent says in the order they say it. Pug, Elephant, Pink, Icecream, Abraham, Squirrel, Frenchfry. If you weren’t flowing that list, you probably wouldn’t be able to make an argument about each one in order (even though it was the tiniest and worst LD case of all time). So, the lesson is: go with the flow. Literally. Flow every argument, all the time. The next step is prep or preparation time, also known as the 4 minutes in LD where you discover whether you’ve done enough work before the round to still win. In all seriousness, the best rebuttals aren’t rebuttals but prebuttals, meaning that you’ve already got them planned out because you’ve already thought the arguments through. The last steps are the line-by-line and some signposting. For a rebuttal, you always want to begin at the “top” of the flow, or with their first argument, and move “down,” in order, line by line. This keeps the speech super organized and easy-to-follow for your judge. But you also want to “signpost” or tell your judge where you are on the flow at all times. It might sound something like this: “On my opponent’s first argument that pug, well, that was a good argument. On their second argument, that elephant, I say, that point is just weird. Moving on to their third argument that pink, well this is a color, not even an animal so they lose,” and so on and so forth. Okay not the best example, but you get the idea.

Once you get the skeleton of a rebuttal down, you can think about what meat to add to it. Okay, sorry, scary image. Like questions, rebuttals can be offensive or defensive too. Roughly, a defensive rebuttal picks apart your opponent’s argument, while an offensive rebuttal shows why your argument is better or why one of their arguments actually works for your side. Let’s start with defense, and use our opponent’s argument from last time that schools should not ban energy drinks because it will cause anger in the student body. A Level 1 rebuttal includes the options of discredit or disprove. Discredit targets the evidence in your opponent’s argument and argues that we shouldn’t rely on it because of some weakness like, it’s too old or from a questionable source. Maybe their study was funded by the energy drink industry and of course they don’t want a ban. Disprove skips all this and presents counter-evidence that challenges their premise. Maybe there’s a good study that energy drinks aren’t all that popular anyway and kids just want their Starbucks (like with a ton of extra whip cream on top for some reason). Both of these attacks are fine, but they only go so far. A Level 2 rebuttal takes it up a notch and includes options familiar to us by now: attack the link or impact. Using what we learned from questioning, we could argue, for example, that (1) student anger is going to happen with or without the ban, and (2) even if the ban did cause anger, it wouldn’t last that long or cause any problems anyway. In short, we can snip their link or neutralize their impact (or both). Either way, the argument starts to fall apart.

But we can really turn up the dial with a Level 3 rebuttal, and gain some offense with reasons why we’re right, not just why they’re wrong. Here, there are two basic options: outweigh or turn. With an outweigh, we grant their impact but argue that our impact is bigger or worse. So, for example, even if the ban makes students angry, allowing students to endanger their safety is much worse. Even one death outweighs any student anger that might emerge over the ban. Notice this rebuttal diminishes their argument while highlighting ours; hence, offense. Another option is something called a “turn,” where you flip or turn their argument in your favor. Here we focus on the link or impact once again. Turning their link might sound like: actually not banning energy drinks will cause even more anger, because there’s an anti-energy-drink movement forming. If we really care about preventing student anger, we would go with the ban. Or, turning their impact might sound like: actually, student anger isn’t a bad thing; all it means is that kids are more engaged and care about what’s happening in their school. Thus, in a judo-like move, we use the momentum of their arguments for our offense on our side of the resolution.

There are some great activities for practicing rebuttals. If you haven’t tried adding rebuttals to the 10 Random Things exercise yet, now’s the time to do it, and make sure to use a line-by-line and clear signposting. The next exercise is called “Two Punch Rebuttal” where you focus on a premade argument and construct a two-part rebuttal with defense and offense. The last activity is a “What’s Worse?” flash debate focused on the skill of outweighing. Two debaters flip for sides and clash for 30 seconds each on a “what’s worse” topic, like: “having spaghetti for fingers or toes” or “living in a whale or a tiny whale living in you.” Whoever pushes the greater harm wins. That’s enough for now, talk to you next time!


bottom of page