- Keywords: Opinions, speaking, disagreeing
- Learner English level: Intermediate and above
- Learner maturity: High school and above
- Preparation time: 15-30 minutes
- Activity time: 30-75 minutes, depending on class size
Materials: Handouts (see appendix), pencils
The free exchange of opinions is not especially easy for Japanese students. This speaking activity lets students practice sharing opinions and disagreeing by creating a non-threatening, competitive environment. The activity focuses on situations with options which are relevant to university students. Situations are deliberately more trivial than serious, so conversations are kept light. Students generate their own options for each situation, as well as two further situations. The activity can last as long as students have the energy, allowing for everyone to have a chance to solicit and give opinions.
Print out the worksheet found in the appendix. Before the activity, students add five possible options for ten situations. They also add two original situations with options.
Step 1: Divide students into three equally-sized groups by assigning letters A, B, and C.
Step 2: Instruct A students to stand around the perimeter of the room with their completed handouts. Ensure sufficient space is between students to minimise distractions from other conversations.
Step 3: Make B-C pairs with remaining students. Make sure these students do not take their handouts with them.
Step 4: B-C pairs visit A students and start conversations, beginning with small talk about the weather, recent activities, or news stories, for example.
Step 5: A students change the topic to introduce a choice and five possible options. It is up to the A student to decide which situation they want to present. For example: “So anyway, which activity do you think I should do at the weekend? Go to my friend’s party, go hiking, play tennis, see a movie, or go bowling?”
Step 6: B and C students must select different options and justify their choices.
Step 7: Student A summarises the choices and reasons from student B and student C and picks the one he or she prefers, giving a reason for the choice.
Step 8: Students close the conversation.
Step 9: B-C pairs move clockwise to the next A student and repeat the process. It is a good idea to let pairs move only when the next A student is ready, rather than curtailing conversations with set time limits. This naturally allows students to take short breaks as they wait.
Step 10: After one third of the total activity time has passed, change the roles and repeat. Change again later to ensure every student tries each role.
This activity should make it easier for students to get comfortable with sharing their opinions. Contests usually develop between B and C students during the course of the activity, and some learners may become increasingly vocal about their opinions as they increase their confidence. In my experience, it is easy for students to become absorbed in this activity, as they have become so focused on choosing the likely “winning” option that they forget the pain of sharing their opinions.
An additional benefit is that students are naturally pushed to provide convincing justifications for their choices, which is usually challenged by partners. The activity, therefore, helps to develop critical thinking skills. The activity may be adapted to use more serious topics once students are more comfortable with sharing their opinions. In this case, the progression from small talk to serious topics is especially important as it ensures a balance of heavy and light themes.
The appendix is available below.