Mini Debates‏‎ for the TEFL/TESOL Classroom

Lesson Plans & Activities

Two children talking earnestly.Before engaging your students in a full blown classroom debate you may want to get them accustomed to discussing ideas and exchanging opinions and of course it’s great for listening‏‎ and speaking‏‎ practice.

Here are a few ideas for mini debates. They are easy to hold and enjoyable for the class. Once the class is familiar with these kind of lightweight debates you have the option to move them onto something more serious.

The major point to remember is that these debates are light and there are no heavy topics (nuclear disarmament, gay rights, global warming, etc).


Before diving into a debate your students need to practice the language they will be using. Depending on your class level you will want to prepare a list of useful phrases‏‎ which will come in handy and help with:

  • I believe that…
  • I’m sorry, can you repeat that?
  • I agree because…
  • I’m sorry, but I can’t agree with you because…

The important point here is that you should prepare phrases of the right level‏‎ for the class. There’s no point in giving them language which is too complicated or too easy!

Then make a list of fun, light, topics which you know will appeal to your class. Let’s say you have teenagers:

  • Rock music is the best music.
  • The greatest singer in the world is Justin Bieber.
  • Women make better teachers than men.
  • Teenagers should only spend 30 minutes on the internet per day.
  • Cell phones should be illegal for people under 18.

Note that they are light but a little bit controversial but in a non-political way. Of course you need to tailor them to your class so, for example, if you are teaching in, say, western Europe you could have a debate about Facebook vs WhatsApp but the same topic wouldn’t work in a country with limited or no internet access.

In the TEFL Class

Start by writing up a single statement on the board. Then two columns under it simply marked YES and NO.

With the class elicit a number of ideas to support the statement and another few which don’t support it and write them up (or, of course, get a student to do the writing).

Now give the students a list of useful phrases and work with them in putting the ideas into those phrases.

Justin Bieber is the best singer in the world because he’s sold more records than anyone else.
Justin Bieber is not the best singer in the world because he sounds like a dying cat.

Encourage the students to give their own ideas and phrases to add to the list and give them good practice in using them.

As you will see, it’s very simple but as long as the students are listening and practicing then this is fine! Once the students can use the expressions in a meaningful and relevant way it’s time to move on.

First divide the students into small groups and then give each one a topic for debate. The key to these mini debates is to keep the topics as light as possible.

  • Dogs make better pets than cats.
  • We get too much homework.
  • Superman vs Batman

And so on. Nothing controversial here, it’s all about fun. You don’t want students getting too involved and wound up in which case they may well get frustrated at their lack of language. No, it’s all about enjoying the debate.

Then simply have each group come up with YES and NO columns for a topic they’d like to talk about. While you walk around the class helping, the students are building these into fuller sentences and phrases.

Then after 10 minutes or so, read out the first topic and get some prepared feedback from the students.

Teacher: England are going to win the next World Cup!
S1 (who has prepared this): No, because Germany has a stronger team.
S2 (who has prepared this): No, Brazil will win because they are playing at home.

Then when all prepared responses (both positive and negative) are out of the way, invite other, unprepared, responses.

If it is suitable for the class you can then move the debate on and expand it further and even vote for the best answer.

Useful Links

Debates and Discussions in the TEFL Class – preparing a more formal kind of debate in the classroom

Quick Debates‏‎ – ideas for quick debates

Badger vs Baboon‏‎ – a flexible and fun quick debate

Image © mrlins

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