Using Classroom Debates To Improve Communication Skills
- Posted by: Shannon Amaadar
- Category: teaching techniques
How effective are classroom debates in learning a language? A common way to practice conversation skills in the classroom is through debate. Some would argue that the nature of debates encourages disagreement. In my opinion, disagreement is exactly what we need to build conversation skills. Let me explain.
A recent article in Peachypubications.com by Nik Peachy on why we should stop classroom debates. He argues that classroom debates encourage confrontation and build animosity among students rather than cooperation.
The article goes on to state that classroom conversations are a better way to practice communication skills. But aren’t conversations a kind of debate? Is everyone likely to have the same opinion, especially when topics become more complex? The problem with this approach is that any conversation can lead to disagreements as surely no one will be of the same opinion all the time.
We must learn how to disagree in a civil manner, regardless of language ability. Debates are a structured disagreement that teaches students how to disagree in a calm and respectful way.
Another point the article makes is that the structure of debates requires a clear winner and loser. I disagree; the point of debates is to present the best argument you can for your opinion while respecting others. There’s a lot to learn in debates and for teenage and adult students it’s a good way to get practical use of the target language.
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While it’s true that there is a winner in the sense that one team has presented the best argument and managed to sway the judges’ opinion, it isn’t common anymore to have that sort of old-fashioned debate structure in a modern ESL classroom. The point of the exercise is to build communication skills and to get an idea or opinion across effectively.
There is the element of competition in a debate, which for some age groups may not be ideal. In general, I feel that the structure of the debate encourages open-mindedness and acceptance, skills that are needed in many other contexts.
Being able to express your ideas clearly and respectfully is exactly the goal of learning a language, and debates do a wonderful job of building this skill.
I use the debate structure in my classes. It’s especially useful with university-aged students because it challenges the way the language can be used. It’s also a valuable skill in many industries such as sales and marketing as well as positions where negotiating is an important factor like in politics or business. As English teachers, we don’t have to be bound to that one subject. Teaching English opens up doors to build other useful skills and is an opportunity to encourage open and critical thought in young people