Effectiveness of debate in EFL classes

Makiko Ebata, Digital Hollywood University


Quick guide

  • Key words:Debate, research paper, group work, critical thinking
  • Learner English level:Intermediate and up
  • Learner maturity:University and up
  • Preparation time:60 minutes
  • Activity time: Three weeks
  • Materials:Debating skills handout, note taking handout, OHP or whiteboard

When learning a new language for global communication, students are required to confidently express their thoughts. In order for studentsto be vocal, critical thinking skills are essential. The use of debate has been an effective technique for strengthening my students’ speaking and critical thinking abilities. The following activity demonstrates how I have successfully used debate in my classes.


Step 1:Generate a proper debate topic for your students, preferably a controversial issue (such as the death penalty) that allows students to think critically and deeply. The topic should challenge your students by requiring them to use all of their acquired English skills in order to participate.

Step 2:Prepare two handouts: one that describes effective debate skills and expressions, and another to facilitate student note taking during the debates.


Step 1:To provide background information, have students research the topic in English and select key vocabulary they find while reading. 

Step 2:In groups of three, have students present what they have learned about the topic from their research.

Step 3:After sharing information, each group should combine the new vocabulary they discovered into one list.

Step 4:Have each group then present their vocabulary list. Note each group’s words on the board or OHP. Before the next class, create a master handout containing all of the words everyone found.

Step 5:In the following class, after handing out the master vocabulary list, instruct studentstotake either the pro or con side of the topic. Tell them they will have2weeks to write a three to five page mini research paper on their position.

Step 6:Once students hand in their first draft, correct the papers and hand them back in the next class. Give them another week to make revisions and resubmit a second draft.

Step 7:After the mini research papers are finished and returned, begin teaching effective debating methods such as expressing arguments, addressing opinions, and drawing conclusions. Also be sure to cover essential debate procedures.

Step 8:Once you are confident your students understand the basics, have them actually debate on the topic. Students in the audience should take notes on the previously prepared note taking handout.

Step 9:After the debate, initiate a whole-class discussion on what went well and what was lacking in their debates. 


In order to facilitate expressiveness, fostering critical thinking in your students is essential. The use of debate in EFL classes is especially effective in strengthening learners’ speaking skills, and the information students learn from their research plays a vital role in building their reasoning ability. In addition, debating allows them to utilize the related vocabulary they picked up from their reading. Finally, by evaluating their debate, students can learn from each other about their own strengths and weaknesses.