Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Using Debate in EFL Classes

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Using Debate in EFL Classes

Article excerpt


The countries that use English as a foreign language need effective activities which propel students to practice skills of the language properly inside as well as outside classrooms. Debating is a practice that inspires learners to open their mouth, get into discussion, defend their own positions, place counter arguments and also conduct research on related issues. While debating in English, the debaters get involved into a challenging and thrilling activity; moreover, they find themselves well-conversant in the aforesaid language. This paper presents the rationale behind using debate in EFL classes and proposes a few modules of debating which, if practiced properly, will make students confident users of English language in academic, social and professional settings. The paper also examines utilities of the modules and exhibits how students while practicing debate can improve their English language as well as presentation skills. The modules can be practiced in EFL classes, English language centers, debating clubs or other formal and informal settings where teaching-learning of English language is concerned.

Keywords: EFL, debate, skills, communication, learning, motivation

1. Introduction

Debating is a formal method of interactive and representational argument (Debate, n.d.) aimed at persuading judges and audience. It is a rhetoric practice in which different strategies of logic building as well as delivery are used to pull in the target audience to a conclusion on a controversial issue. Debating can be used in EFL classes as a tool to make students practice skills of English language in real-life situations. Krieger (2005) comments:

Debate is an excellent activity for language learning because it engages students in a variety of cognitive and linguistic ways. In addition to providing meaningful listening, speaking and writing practice, debate is also highly effective for developing argumentation skills for persuasive speech and writing. (p. 25)

Timothy Stewart (2003) found that 75 per cent of his unmotivated and reserved students ranked debate as their most favorite classroom activity. A survey conducted on non-native English speakers in U.S. universities about the language needs found that formal speaking and listening comprehension skills were their two biggest problem areas (Ferris, 1998). Debate offers English language teachers a way to combine practices of these important skills. Quoting Davidson (1995), Krieger (2005) said that with practice, many students had obvious progress in their ability to express and defend ideas in debate [and] they often quickly recognized the flaws in each other's arguments. Nisbett (2003) states: "Debate is an important educational tool for learning analytic thinking skills and for forcing self-conscious reflection on the validity of one's ideas (p. 210)." Fukuda (2003), in a study conducted with Japanese students, found that before the practice of debate only 30.8 per cent of the students were not afraid of expressing their opinions. After the debate, this figure rose to 56.7 per cent. He added that the knowledge and skills which came from the practice of debate led students to become more accustomed to expressing opinions.

Students need to perform various academic tasks in different disciplines. Academic language has been defined as "the language that is used by teachers and students for the purpose of acquiring new knowledge and skills" (Chamot & O'Malley, 1994, p. 40). Chamot and O'Malley listed a number of language functions that are needed in all content areas: explaining, informing, justifying, debating, describing, classifying, proving, persuading, and evaluating. In addition, students are often expected to state, discuss, question, and defend opinions. Students, preparing for a debate practice many of these language functions. Pally (2000) claims: "[C]ritical thinking skills-including questioning information . . . are used widely in academic/professional settings" (p. …

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