Formal Debates

Formal Debates in the EFL Classroom

This is an activity I’ve found useful over the years. It gives sts an opportunity to experiment with different registers and try their hand at less-interactive speaking, so it’s good practice for public speaking and presentations. In larger classes, it also provides a way to get shier sts to have a full turn at speaking. If you try it with your own classes, please let me know how it went in the comments. Here’s how I do it:

The ideal size for teams is about 6 sts, fewer is no problem, but 8 is probably about the maximum. Since each st is going to have an argument, or sub argument, of their own, coming up with more than 6 or 8 of them for a given topic could be quite difficult. This means that for just about any high school class, the debating will have to be done in shifts – ideally just 2 debates, so as to minimize the “audience” time for the rest of the class.

The first thing is to write the format on the board and explain it to your students:

Opening Arguments, 5 minutes [for example]

Rebuttals, 5 minutes [for example]

Remind students that having a turn for rebuttals means they have to listen carefully to and make note of their opponents’ arguments.

Then lay down the ground rules:

1) When one team speaks, the other team says NOTHING, even if they are being baited with rhetorical questions or whatever.

2) All members of the team have to speak during both parts of the debate.

[It should go w/o saying that the debate is to be held completely in English, though I allow a little latitude for using some L1 while teams are preparing their arguments]

Explain the statement they’re arguing for or against. It has to be crystal clear.

Write the debate statement on the board.

Flip a coin to decide which team agrees or disagrees with the statement.

Put teams on opposite sides of the room, which is where they’ll do the debate. [for 2 debates, do same but with front and back of room, so all four sides will be used]. This cuts down on eavesdropping during prep. Sts prepare arguments in teams while T circulates, helping with language AND ideas. When planning to have more than one debate it’s a good idea to have all class/teams prepare at the same time (so everyone’s doing something). It can be tricky to give them the right amount of time for this. Obviously, they need a fair amount to get their main argument(s) and sub-arguments together, decide who says what etc., but they tend to go on forever with this phase if you let them. So I’ve found it best to give them a bit of time pressure, like say they’ll have 5 minutes but then give them an extra couple, so they really are well prepared.

Flip a coin to see which team chooses to go first or last (they usually want to go last).

Then, do the debate, (stop)watch in hand.

The sts not currently debating should be encouraged to listen for language, or style mistakes, perhaps things done particularly well too and/or decide on a winner.

After the debate or debates, sts of non-debating team can pick a winner or not; discuss language (or style) errors or not; have a “crossfire” exchange or not; express true opinions or not.

Some Possible Debate Statements and Topics:

Sts at all schools should be required to wear uniforms

Advertising of all kinds should be kept out of schools.

Animals: in captivity, for testing medicine or cosmetics (stricter laws, bans, etc.)

All/No beaches should be nude or topless.

Boys and girls should be raised exactly the same way. (Or: should be given the same kind of toys)

Tip:  I would avoid potentially volatile topics like abortion and the death penalty. You might also want to steer clear of sophistry and potential unintended humor with topics like sex or drugs.

Here’s some lexis sts may find useful for debates. The linkers they learn for the Selectividad Exam should come in handy here as well, plus some useful expressions came up during the course, like:

We’ll have to agree to disagree (on that point)

Or the classic:

I see your point, but…

Then there’s my personal favorite:

There is another point to consider though

(Sts rarely tend to use though at the end of sentences enough for my liking.)


Let me begin by pointing out – and besides

To begin/start with – next – lastly/finally

In my opinion/view

To my mind

The first point I would like to raise is this

It seems to me that

My take is that

Our position is the following

I’d like to deal with two points here. The first is

I have the feeling / the impression that

As I see it,

I am sure that

It is a fact that

Everyone knows that

I couldn’t agree more

I see what you’re saying

You make a valid point

We agree/admit/grant/acknowledge

That seems reasonable


I think you’re quite right

Up to a point

To a certain degree

The downside is

That’s not the issue here

That’s not how I see it

The way we see it

That’s beside the point

I’d like to focus on a point the other side has failed to address

We aren’t coming at this from the same perspective

There are two sides to this question

According to the other side/ our opponents

Our opponents have claimed

It follows from this that

The takeaway is

In conclusion, let me say that

To sum up

One thought on “Formal Debates

  1. Fine, I saw your site in digg and the posts really helped me ~

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