For intermediate and advanced learners it is important to dedicate time to discussing topics so that students have practice organizing their thoughts and expressing their views. Lessons focused on debating, giving advice, and reading articles are some examples of when discussion activities could be conducted.
There are a lot of phrases and vocabulary words that go along with debating but introducing only a couple new things each time you have this kind of lesson will allow students to focus mostly on the lesson topic while still building their vocabulary. Phrases such as “I see your point however…” and “I agree/disagree with you but/because…” would be appropriate. To lead a debate, divide students into two groups with each one representing one side of the argument. You can give them a passage to read about the topic and some facts or perhaps give one side facts to support its argument while giving a different set of facts to the other. While students are working in groups, it is important to ensure that each student has the opportunity to practice speaking. Give students some time to review the material and organize their thoughts before conducting the activity. Students should decide who presents the initial argument for their group and then take turns presenting their case and responding to the other group’s points. You may decide to judge the groups based on how they present material and the strength of their arguments or simply conduct the activity for fun. Once students have exhausted the topic, it may be appropriate to have groups switch sides so that students get to argue both sides of the same discussion or have another debate on an entirely new topic if there is enough time.
To start this lesson, you could ask each student to write down a problem he has and submit it anonymously at the beginning of class. This way, the advice given during the lesson is sure to relate to issues that the students are dealing with and thus gives it much more relevance than any sort of problems you may think of to use for this activity. To start, simply draw a problem out of a hat, box or jar for instance and read it aloud to the class as if it were your problem. Ask students to take turns giving you advice about the problem. After a piece of advice has been offered you can open it up for discussion by saying “Do you think that’s a good idea?” and perhaps having students raise their hands if they agree with the advice. Then ask why students agree and why other students disagree with the advice. Call on a student who disagrees to give another piece of advice and repeat this again or move on to another problem. This gives students examples of real life situations where they may need to give advice as well as lots of speaking practice.
Articles relating to current events, new technology, fashion, travel, or any hobby may be appropriate reading material for your class. It is important to choose a topic which will appeal to your students. You can use the article to practice pronunciation and introduce vocabulary but also to lead into a discussion. An article about soccer might lead to questions such as “Do you like soccer? Who is your favorite player? Did you watch the World Cup?” and then move on to more complex questions such as “Do you think soccer is getting more or less popular? Why?” Students can be asked lots of questions based on their responses and you can encourage other students to ask questions as well.
Discussions are often challenging to lead in larger classes because there is a lot of time where students are not speaking so you may want to have students work in groups to discuss and then present material on a specific theme. Each group could be given a different theme and then students would have more time to express their individual opinions. With smaller classes discussions are much easier to conduct but you may have to prepare more questions for these lessons because students may move through the material more quickly. With both class sizes discussions are an important part of learning English because students need to be able to produce their own material based on their thoughts and opinions as opposed to simply regurgitating information and memorizing grammatical structures.
Discussion classes are an excellent method of encouraging students to express themselves and give students lots of speaking practice.
How often do you have discussion classes? How successful are they? Please share your ideas below.