A Debate Square for ELT Classes

What a debate square should look like

This was a structure I came up with for an extra class with one of my better, though still low-intermediate high school groups. Getting learners to speak at all is tough, and getting them to speak extemporaneously even tougher. For this reason, the debate keeps everything very short, and allows for both prepared speech and reaction in real time in order to boost confidence and build real-time speaking skills. I’m guessing that this might appeal to the dogmeists out there.

This is how I planned the lesson:

  • Tell the class that we are going to a debate. Check their understanding of the term.
  • Discuss topics for debate. I suggest one fun, one serious. Brainstorm suggestions in each category, and then put them to a vote.
  • Have each person in the class make three cards, with expressions for agreement, disagreement and failure to understand. These expressions can be decided as a class or individually.
  • Put the class into four teams, hopefully of equal numbers.
  • Explain the roles in the debate:
    • Speaker – the person who delivers a prepared speech.
    • Respondent – the person who responds to what that person said.
    • Audience – the people who watch and evaluate. They signal agreement, disagreement or lack of understanding with their cards.
    • Scorer – The person who keeps track of points scored in the debate when the audience raise their cards.
    • Scribe – The language detective, who keeps track of what is said; anything interesting, difficult, wrong or exciting.
  • Explain how the square works: Each member of the facing teams delivers a pre-prepared speech of 30 seconds (from notes). The person facing them then has 20 seconds to respond to what they said. Teams then swap roles, with the opposite team delivering speeches and the original team responding. Finally, the audience has a chance to ask questions to team members. If at any point an audience member raises a card, the scorer notes agreement or disagreement. If they don’t understand, the scribe takes a note. At the end of the debate, agreement points are added, disagreement points subtracted, with the highest score declared the winner.
  • Assign teams to topics. Give them a short time to plan their speeches.
  • Do the debate. Two facing teams debate the serious topic, the other two the fun one. The teacher should also observe and note any interesting (emergent?) language, with particular reference to sociolinguistic and strategic features.
  • After the debate, reward the winners and discuss the findings of the teacher, scribes and anyone else who wants to contribute. Assign whatever practice is necessary to deal with those findings.
  • Do the debate again, with teams exchanging topics. Scribes should focus on language problems again, but also on successful uses of the language previously discussed and practiced.
  • Reward, discuss, practice and outline important parts to take away, or any follow up work.


  1. This can get very noisy, and lose the structure very quickly. It would be wise to look at some debating etiquette first, or ask students to design their own rules.
  2. Make sure the audience is listening. They will be tempted to prepare for their own speeches, so ask them to give you their notes before the debate.
  3. It’s usually best to assign a scribe to each audience team for the best coverage. Ensure they are focused on the language used, not on the points made.
  4. The teacher should also have agree and disagree cards.
  5. Teams should be fined points for using L1 during the debate.

I didn’t get very far into this due to time constrictions, but it was definitely a success. The disappointment was tangible when I announced that we’d be doing a debate at the beginning of class. However, by the end I had a very rowdy class, but one expressing themselves enthusiastically in English. I hope this inspires you to give it a go and leave me a comment with your experience, and anything you’d change about it.


PS – The result: according to class 3-3, 짬뽕 is far superior to 자짱면 ^^


One response to “A Debate Square for ELT Classes

  1. Pingback: 5 things you didn’t know about Refugees | Decentralised Teaching and Learning

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