One of the most beneficial ways to practice language naturally is through spontaneous discussion.
At lower levels this is difficult to accomplish, but once students are at an intermediate level or above it is the perfect time to engage in some unadulterated discussion. Here are three ways to facilitate stimulating discussion.
Try These 3 Great Ways to Facilitate Stimulating Discussion in Your Classroom
Classes of all types and sizes can benefit greatly from discussions about culture, differences and opinions. If you have a class of primarily one culture chances are many cultural norms have already come up. You can delve deeper into the topic by providing information about how things are carried out in other cultures and doing comparisons. Students always have a lot to say about their cultural norms, food, ceremonies, etc. You could focus specifically on one element of culture, for example: weddings (a fun one), funerals (interesting), Buddhist Ceremonies (if applicable) or country holidays. Students can not only describe the topic, but discuss their favorite memories or parts, things they don’t like, or whatever else comes up. The best thing about discussion as that it doesn’t have to be structured, and it can lead to anywhere. Another way to bring in cultural differences is to create a cultures quiz which focuses on world cultural beliefs and differences. This is a great jumping off point for discussion, reflection, and heightened learning. If you have students from various countries, be sure to include each of their countries on the quiz, and possibly even some very little known facts.
Social Issues and Values
Approaching social issues with an ESL class can be quite interesting and enlightening. The difference between the two is clear, but you will want to define it for students. Social issues deal with topics regarding the well-being of society and what students may believe is best for their community or society. Values back up our social stances and can be discussed in perhaps a more nonthreatening way. There are a few things to keep in mind before you jump into a discussion regarding social issues and values. First, you’ll want to consider very carefully bringing appropriate topics to the table. Be sensitive to religious and political beliefs that may hinder having a really open, honest and meaningful discussion. Also, be sure that all the students in the class are comfortable discussing the social issues and values that you choose. One last thing to think about is how to frame the discussion. When it comes to social issues where people have strong opinions and interaction may get heated, devise some ways that the discussion will not turn personal. Be sure to be clear with students that they are discussing a topic, not attacking one another for ideas or beliefs. Statements can be personalized from the speaker, but not aimed toward other students. The intention is that students go beyond their own opinions about the topic, and start looking at both sides of an issue. Providing a list of questions for them to use as a launch pad for discussion may be very helpful. You can approach topics that have recently been in the news, something that came up recently in the class, or devise a list of options and have students vote on what topic they would like to denote class time to discussing. Stay away from any issues overtly centered upon stereotypes, religious beliefs or anything that the students may not have much connection or interest in. Some good starting points are topics such as:
Values--Statement Social Issues Time is more important than money Teachers should be paid more. Money can’t buy happiness. I believe in the death penalty. Children should be seen not heard. Every family should recycle.
Research and Facts
An extension of the above discussion ideas could be to have students do some minimal research on a topic that the class has agreed upon. The option of having an informal debate that has students back up some of their thoughts and feelings with facts can be very beneficial. Depending on the level of the group, the debate can be as formal or as informal as you like. Considering a few key elements before throwing students into the ring is really important. First, if you want a more formal debate, it will require some class preparation time and lessons in advance. Students will need to have specific language at their fingertips as well as access to some ways to research their topic. Supplying students with a list of common phrases that could be utilized during an informal or formal debate is essential. You could spend some time defining the difference, and having little mini-debates to practice before the big one arrives. Some key vocabulary to include could be:
Informal Formal In my opinion… I don’t agree with you because… I think/feel that… Yes that is true, but… I’d say that… According to…., what you said is not accurate. The point is… Let me make my point. As I see it… My point is this…
Debates are a great way for students to gain confidence and utilize several different language aspects. You may also want to consider having students against a particular issue argue for it and vice versa. It is challenging and forces them to rely more on their research than on their opinions.
Students at a higher level really appreciate discussion, no matter its form or its purpose.
It may take some time to get them comfortable sharing thoughts and opinions. Once you hit upon those issues that mean a lot to them, they will flourish and discussion time will become a regularly requested lesson.