THE GREAT DEBATE
Understanding the Social Purpose of Debating
As language learners, EAL students develop and practice oral language skills though a variety of ways, both in the classroom and on the playground. However, many students still require careful scaffolding and meaningful real-life experiences to apply these skills in a supportive environment. During our Chinese pull-out class we are using debating as a vehicle for developing public speaking skills as well as formulating personal opinions and practicing persuasive writing. We began the class looking at a video that discussed what ‘formal’ debating looks like vs arguing. We watched examples from the US Presidential primaries as well as discussed when students have been engaged in arguments in their day-to-day lives. After discussing and viewing examples of each, students understood that listening and responding are just as important as formulating persuasive arguments. We also discussed how formal debating is considered a sport, much like a form of verbal ping-pong.
This particular EAL class has 11 students who range from Basic Beginner (almost no English) to High Intermediate (almost ready to be exited from EAL pull-out). We started the class with a shared language experience where together we explored www.forandagainst.com . Students aligned themselves on an imaginary continuum to formulate an ‘agree’ and ‘disagree’ stance which enabled students of all levels to converse in their mother tongue. We explored relevant topics such as “Homework is a waste of time”, “Students should wear uniforms” and took turns listening to students form their opinions and discuss with each other in mother tongue.
Following the shared experience, students broke off into two groups and were assigned a stance on a ‘Mystery Topic’. The one they pulled was “Playing outside is better than playing inside”. Students were given time to discuss in their mother tongue, and the Intermediate-level students synthesized ideas in English in bullet point form.
The students on the ‘AGREE’ side worked outside to generate ideas why Playing Outside is Better than Playing Inside.
Students were also encouraged to imagine what responses the opposition team might come up with, and created meaningful arguments and reasons that also connected to personal experiences.
This activity engaged all levels of English Language Learners as the topic connected to them and they were paired with high level English speakers who could model proper sentence structure.
The final result was a successful ‘first attempt’ at sharing opinions, which we videoed and critiqued for future speaking skills!