Using Debates to Expand ESL Instruction

Classroom discussions improve conversational skills while introducing viewpoints

One of the great perks of teaching English to ESL students is that you're constantly confronted with differing world views. Debate lessons are a great way to take advantage of these points of view, especially to improve conversational skills

These tips and strategies provide methods of using ESL classroom debates to improve conversational skills among your students:

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Are Multinationals a Help or a Hindrance?

Write the name of some major multinational corporations on the board (e.g., Coca-Cola, Nike, Nestle). Ask students for their opinions of these corporations. Do they hurt or help local economies? Do they bring about homogenization of local cultures? Do they help promote peace internationally? These are just examples. Based on the students' responses, divide them into two groups, one arguing for multinationals and the other against multinationals.

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First World Obligations

Debate the differences between a First World country and a Third World country. Ask your ESL students to consider the following statement: "First World countries have an obligation to help Third World countries with funds and assistance in cases of hunger and poverty. This is true because of the First World's advantageous position attained by exploiting the resources of the Third World in the past and present." Based on students' responses, divide students into two groups, one arguing for extensive First World responsibility and the other for limited responsibility.

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The Necessity of Grammar

Lead a short discussion asking the students' opinions on what they consider to be the most important aspects of learning English. Ask them to consider the following statement: "The most important ingredient of learning English is grammar. Playing games, discussing problems, and enjoying a conversation are important, but if we don't focus on grammar it is all a waste of time. "Based on students' responses, divide them into two groups, one arguing for the prime importance of learning grammar and the other supporting the concept that knowing just grammar doesn't mean that you are able to use English effectively.

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Are Men and Women Treated Equally?

Write a few ideas on the board to encourage a debate on equality between men and women: in the workplace, the home, government, etc. Ask the ESL students if they feel that women are truly equal to men in these roles and places. Based on students' responses, divide them into two groups, one arguing that equality for women has been achieved and the other promoting the idea that women have not yet attained true equality with men.

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Violence In the Media Should Be Regulated

Ask students for examples of violence in various media forms and how much violence they experience secondhand through the media every day. Have the students consider the positive or negative effect this amount of violence in the media has on society. Based on students' responses, divide them into two groups, one arguing that the government must more strictly regulate the media and the other supporting the belief that there is no need for government intervention or regulation.

Tip for Using Debates to Teach ESL Classes

Sometimes you'll need to ask ESL students to take debate viewpoints contrary their beliefs to keep the group sizes even. That's challenging for some students, but it offers advantages. Students will have to stretch their vocabulary to find words to describe concepts they don't necessarily share. Also, they can focus on grammar and sentence structure because they are not as invested in their arguments.