- Key words: Debate, questioning, speaking skills, point of view, opinion, gestures
- Learner English level: False beginner to intermediate
- Learner maturity level: Junior high school, high school
- Preparation time: 60 minutes
- Activity time: 2 or 3 lessons
- Materials: Sample speeches, dictionaries, notebooks (for writing or feedback)
In this activity, your students will engage in debate, discussing topics such as: Which is better, coffee or tea? For preparation, students should read and discuss a simple sample speech, taking care to underline key grammatical patterns in order to familiarize themselves with the type of language they need to use. When you explain what a debate is, be sure to mention the concept of a Q & A session. Emphasize that students should ask questions that relate directly to the speech. Allow some time for students to practice writing questions and answers. Once you feel the students understand the basic debate process, proceed with conducting live debates.
Step 1: Each debate will be presented with a four student-two pairs format, so begin by dividing your class into groups of four. If there are an uneven number of students, have the extras rotate among groups. Alternatively, student three can read the speech as the other two students do the Q & A sessions.
Step 2: Assign a topic to each group.
Step 3: Have each group form pairs and decide which side of the topic, A or B, each team will represent.
Step 4: Provide enough time (about one and a half classes) for your students to write an opinion speech with three reasons to support their position. For example:
Topic: Which are better, cats or dogs?
Cats are better than dogs. Cats are small enough to live in an apartment. Cats are quiet so they won’t make noise. Cats do not need a lot of food, so this is inexpensive.
Step 5: Check the students’ speeches and then model a sample debate:
- Begin by making a speech supporting one of the positions,
- Have students write out potential responses,
- Elicit students to share their responses with the class,
- Repeat this process for the other position.
If you are in a team-teaching situation, each teacher can model one of the positions.
Step 6: Have each student group present their speeches. Make sure the speakers talk slowly as their classmates will need to take notes.
Step 7: After the speeches, provide 3 minutes for the audience to form a question to ask the speakers.
Step 8: Give the speakers 2 minutes to formulate an answer. They receive one point if their answer is in their native language, two if in English. Allow the speakers time to write down the question if need be. Do not correct grammar while students are speaking—the focus should be on their English reply.
Step 9: Provide feedback to everyone after each debate ends. Given the importance of this feedback, it is suggested to have no more than two debate topics within one 50-minute class period. This allows time for students to write feedback comments in their notebooks.
The goals of this activity are as follows:
- To actively use English
- To become familiar with common debate formats
- To see the relationship between expository speaking and direct questioning
- To improve public speaking skills.
In my experience, student reactions were positive after the first debate lesson. Most admitted feeling a lot of apprehension while speaking in English, but they also felt most satisfied when they were able to understand a question in English and develop a relevant response. This encouraged students to view English as an active means of communication rather than simply as a subject to be studied in school.