Essential Tips for Conducting a Class Debate
Essential Tips for Conducting a Class Debate
Susan Verner
132,881 views
Susan Verner

Essential Tips for Conducting a Class Debate

Your students have better things to debate than whether Justin Bieber is better than Taylor Lautner. By introducing structured, formal debate to your ESL classroom, your students will benefit with listening, speaking and critical thinking skills.

They might learn a thing or two about the issue as well. Here are some simple tips to making it happen.

How to Conduct a Class Debate

  1. 1

    Introduce the topic

    All debates start with a topic, or resolution. Often, this resolution is a proposed course of action that one team will argue for and another will argue against. Choose a topic to which your students can relate and perhaps one with practical application. You can make the topic less serious (the cafeteria should include more international dishes on the daily menu) or more serious (the U.S. government should reform its visa application process). In any case, be sure that your students understand the issue and any specialized vocabulary that goes with it.

  2. 2

    Assign the Affirmative and the Negative

    There are two sides to any debate. Naturally, one will argue for and another against the resolution. With ESL students, it is best to group your students into teams to research and argue the issue rather than expecting one student to do all the work. This way one student does not have all the pressure to perform, and the other members of the group can help with comprehension and strategy. Ideally, break your class into four groups (you will want at least three students in each group) and assign two groups to each of two resolutions. Then assign one of each pair of student groups to the affirmative. This group will argue for the issues being presented. The other two groups will be the negative and will argue against the resolutions. During the debate, the other groups will serve as the judges and decide which side presented a stronger case voting for the winners of the debate at its conclusion.

  3. 3

    Give Time for Research

    Your students will need time to research the issue. Not only that, they will also need additional instruction on the specific vocabulary that may be involved. Make sure all of your students understand any specialized vocabulary so the efficacy of their arguments does not depend on simple comprehension. Encourage each group to form a strategy as to who will do most of the talking during the debate though remind them that all of them are expected to participate in the research and strategy of the debate. Then, during the preparation time in anticipation of the rebuttal, your students should discuss with their teams the points the opposition made and decide how to refute them.

  4. 4

    Keep Track of Time

    If you are unfamiliar with formal debate, the speakers follow a set order. The following is the most basic of debate structure.
    First, the affirmative group receives two minutes to present their case to the audience.
    The negative group then receives two minutes to present their case.
    After both sides have a chance to speak, both teams receive two minutes to prepare a rebuttal and summary. The order of speech is reversed now and the negative side presents their rebuttal and summary for the first two minutes.
    The last to speak is the affirmative team who then presents their rebuttal and summary for two minutes. The debate is now concluded.

    There are other structures that you can follow for debate, and they may be useful once your class is familiar with the process and strategy of debate, but if this is the first time your students are formally debating, keeping things simple is best.

  5. 5

    Make a Judgment

    Usually in debate, the winner is the one who has presented the strongest case. For ESL classes, the overall purpose of speaking is more important than the specific outcome of the debate. Still, your students will probably want to know who won. To determine the winner, have the audience vote on which team they thought made the most convincing argument. With this, weigh your own opinion as to who communicated clearly and refuted the opponent’s arguments best. This combination will identify your winners.

    Your grading process, on the other hand, does not have to name a winner and a loser. As long as your students were able to communicate clearly, use good grammar, and have good pronunciation, the debate was a success, and their grades should reflect that success.

Though debates are often formal and structured, do not let them intimidate you. Controversial issues are always a great resource for ESL students’ speaking practice, and discussing the issues in a formal manner is just as valuable as informal class discussions.

The next time your curriculum brings up a controversial issue, why not use it as an occasion for a class debate and give your students a new and structured experience of spoken English!

Want more teaching tips like this?
Get the Entire BusyTeacher Library
Instant download. Includes all 80 of our e-books, with thousands of practical activities and tips for your lessons. This collection can turn you into a pro at teaching English in a variety of areas, if you read and use it.
Click here to learn more

Enjoyed this article and learned something? Click the buttons below to share it!

Rate this article:
was this article helpful?
rated by 59 teachers
You will also like:

School Days, School Days
Highly Effective Discussion Based Activities on School

12,022 0

Learning through Arguing
The Keys to Successful Classroom Debates

21,054 0

Debate Champions
9 Steps to Organizing Great ESL Debates

6,027 0

Pro et Contra
20 Stages of Teaching Controversial Topics

21,806 0

Verb Talk
Conversation Activities to Practice Using Verb Tenses

78,365 0

How to Lead Discussions
No Need to Speak Like Obama

52,238 0

Two Sides to the Cigarette
The Smoking Debate in Your ESL Classroom

24,315 0

Would You Play? Weighing In Opinions on Extreme Sports

12,333 0

Beyond Opinions
3 Ways to Facilitate Stimulating Discussion

37,173 0

7 More Go To Activities for Conversation Class

18,991 0

5 Out of This World Ideas for Teaching About Space

19,951 0

Tested Out
5 Alternative Assessments for Your ESL Classroom

4,746 0

Making Group Work Work
10 Tips for Getting Group Activities Right

7,852 0

15 Tricks to Get Your Adult Learners Talking

64,962 0

Is Global Warming a Reality? Presenting Complex Topics for Advanced Learners

15,983 0