Follow-up to webinar “So…let’s debate!” with Tanya Livarda

11th March 2024

On January 6th, I had the opportunity and pleasure to present the webinar ‘So…let’s debate’ as a part of the IATEFL monthly webinars. It was a fruitful experience as I got in touch with many colleagues around the world. In case you have missed it, there is the recording of this webinar available only for IATEFL members by logging in using your account.

This report aims to give a brief overview of the main ideas discussed during the webinar as well as to add some more ideas regarding how a debate class can be used in the EFL/ESL classrooms. At the end of this article, you will find a list of reading materials that might be found useful to you, should you decide to organize such classes.

Debate is mostly connected with two politicians talking about their ideology during the pre-election period and they are trying to convince their voters to vote for them. However, it is not often as simple as it might seem to be. And for sure, debating is not only about politics or politicians. Debating is everywhere in every aspect of our lives, from two people deciding what to have for lunch to two people deciding on the most effective way to combat racism.

If we have to define what debate is, we would say that it is the art of Persuasion as Aristotle pointed out in his Rhetoric (dating from the 4th century), or a way to argue productively as Julia Dhar stated in her insightful TED talk. You can watch it here. In her talk, Dhar introduced the idea of debating effectively. To do that, one needs to get rid of or reduce their biases and misconceptions and be open to the other viewpoint. Therefore, to find a common ground we need to minimize the strength of our thoughts and be genuinely open to the other person’s thoughts and ideas; a key skill for this century’s citizens but a difficult one to acquire. In this sense, debating connects what we are saying with what we are not saying (Mehrabian, 1969) as well as with our emotions (Nobrega et al., 2018, as cited in Hasan, 2020).

Going back to the politicians, debating is not what it looks like when two politicians are debating, at least in the place where I live. It is not screaming or shouting at each other, interrupting constantly, or imposing your opinion because you ‘know better’. These are better avoided and do not constitute productive and effective debating.

How can these be implemented in an EFL/ESL classroom? There are some steps to be taken in order to do it.

1st step: set a goal (think about the reasons why you need such a class, e.g. to boost students’ confidence, to help students develop collaboration skills, critical thinking skills, etc.), set the time-frame, how you will get some feedback, any logistics, the management.

2nd step: after having clarified all or most of the above, it is time to structure the class by identifying what topics to use, the tools (videos/materials), how you will group your students

3rd step: structure your class by setting a time-frame and organizing the materials and the activities that need to be used or created

4th step: organize a debate contest with other classes either from the same school or not

Some fruitful activities that can be used during the class are:

  1. You can use any controversial topics that are age and level-appropriate that you can find in your coursebooks, online papers and magazines, but you can also use Ted talks, videos from YouTube or visit Oxplore:
  2. Through persuasion techniques/exercises (these appeal to logic/emotions, images, videos and research findings) the students will be more confident to build a strong argumentation.
  3. Apart from the linguistic features (use of opinion language), it is a good idea for them to use their voice effectively. You can try warm-up your voice activities a. take some deep breaths for 2 minutes, b. begin by taking a deep inhale and expelling while making a hissing sound (S). Hold this hissing sound for 5 seconds and then repeat.
  4. Use of intonation and speech rhythm to make the other person listen to you.
  5. Activities on how to politely interrupt someone and most importantly to actively listen to someone.

I am sure that you have already thought of some reasons why creating a debate class but it is worth referring to some more here. Debating is all about respecting the other person, it builds empathy and negotiation skills and it fosters collaboration and motivation. It is also a great opportunity to address current issues and learn how to resolve conflicts effectively. Finally, it can be used with any age and level group regardless of where they come from.

So…it’s ok if we disagree but in a constructive way!

About Tanya Livarda

Tanya Livarda (BA/ MA in TESOL, DELTA) is an EFL teacher, a teacher trainer, a content writer, and an oral examiner. She has completed several courses and has attended a plethora of workshops. She has also presented at several conferences in Greece and abroad. She is a board member of TESOL Macedonia Thrace Northern Greece, a member of TESOL Greece and of IATEFL, and a committee member of LAMSIG.

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