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Reading To Win A Debate

Exhausting someone in argument is not the same as convincing him. - Tim Kreider

Harish Natarajan is a debating champion. He obviously loves arguing. He even won a debate against a robot! The reason why that is impressive apart from the fact that he beat a machine is the fact that he managed to persuade the audience to vote in favour of his arguments that were clearly far more convincing than the robot. The subject of debate between them was "Should pre-schools benefit from government subsidies?" His arguments had a dose of emotion coupled with facts that he had registered after extensive reading. Ofcourse, there are instances when someone as well read as him can stumble upon a debate subject about which they know nothing. For instance Harish found himself caught off guard when the subject was "Commercialisation of Feminism." Realising he knew nothing, he spent the next months researching and reading to know more. So when another opportunity to debate on the topic emerged, he swooped in to take the win. People were surprised by how much he knew and how well crafted his arguments were.

“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”


How can we encourage children to read to know more?

Story books can be simply read for entertainment and left alone. That's fine. But what if the same entertaining story could provide a platform for discussion and even small debates?

Creating the inquisitive mindset for more effective learning

The young readers at the Young Readers' Club were discussing a conversation between a parrot and an owl in a story. The story was about the two fighting over the same space to make a home for themselves and it turns out the owl managed to occupy the same tree hallow much to the parrot's dismay.

One of the readers asked a very relevant question after observing the picture- "How is the owl awake during the day? It is awake only in the night!" There was a brief pause and another young reader chimed in, "Ah that's because this parrot has been chirping loudly and has woken him up for a fight!" Another jumped in with another perspective, "Or may be they had a race to see who could win the tree hallow and hence the owl is wide awake." This discussion led to the ultimate question- "Do Owls stay awake only in the night? Could it be that they do wake up during the day for different reasons?"

Reenforcing the questioning mentality while children read and showing them how one question could lead to several others resulting in a fun exploration into any subject is crucial. In the above example, we were simply analysing a context in the story. This wasn't a school textbook nor a preparation for an exam. Yet, there was a sense of curiosity and the need to share different perspectives on the matter trying to find out more. The need to find out more led to reading and accumulation of information for future use. You never know what could come of use in what situation.

Inquisitive minds are alert.

A young reader shared how she found it illogical that a character in a book climbed the rainbow and went sliding down to a coconut tree and then to the ground without getting hurt. "How can anyone climb a rainbow? How is that possible?" One may argue that the author of the story felt free to imagine and in the world of imagination anything can happen. While that is true, we would be completely missing the point if we dismissed this young reader's question. She was actively thinking after reading that story. A reader who pauses to question is likely to be far more alert in real life situations and will constantly be on the lookout for hard core evidence before they believe something under the label 'fact'.

Being equipped for a good debate

Winning a debate competition is about making convincing arguments. To make convincing arguments, one needs to be curious, ask questions, read a lot to find answers and above all imagine what the opposing side is likely to argue. Armed with that knowledge the inquisitive self can ponder and dig more information that would enable one to make a convincing or a persuading argument.

A debate needn't always be a competition.

It could happen in a policy development context where different people have different perspectives and opinions about what would work and what wouldn't. In contexts such as this one, it isn't about winning but about doing the right thing by keeping in mind the impact on all those who are involved. This could be in the context of a nation, an office, a company, a school, a college etc. The ability to be inquisitive, ask questions, read to find answers and use that information effectively when the need arises is a skill that children can easily develop early on by reading storybooks of their choice. Reading as an activity could be a combination of independent reading, being read to and/or reading to share book recommendations in a group. The latter two options can set the ball rolling to bring about an inquisitive mindset even during independent reading.


If you are wondering where to find information about the plethora of children's books, do write to us. We have a long list of book recommendations given by young readers in the age group 8-11 as a part of our activity of the month, conducted every month! Another great source is Reading Racoons on Facebook.


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