Caveat: Debate Methodology

My main debate classes are for the middle-school students, these days. But when I worked at LBridge, we had a full elementary debate curriculum for the speaking component of the EFL curriculum, and I remain a strong believe that debate is great way to teach EFL speaking, especially in Korea where getting kids to do spontaneous conversation is sometimes quite challenging.

I further believe it needn't be reserved for high-level students only. I've been experimenting with teaching debate to my intermediate elementary students exactly the same way I teach to my middle schoolers, in the BISP1-M 반 (cohort).

The lesson follows a 3 or 4 class period pattern. First class introduces the topic and proposition, which follows a debate topic given in a really badly made "teaching newspaper" such as are popular here. The topic in April was "South Korean schools should adopt a 'free semester' system."

A 'free semester' system sounds like a big deal, but it really isn't. The suggestion is that Korean students spend too much time preparing for tests, with a mid-term and then a final each semester. A 'free semester' would be a semester with only one test instead of two. Yay, freedom! Sort of. The idea is that some given semester in middle school would be liberated from a mid-term, and time would be devoted to exposing students to career-planning type activities instead. This is middle-schoolers we're talking about… that said, I think what's being proposed has some parallels in some European models of education, in particular in Germany.

We did some discussion, and found that the students seemed to have a pretty good grasp of the issues.

For the second class they complete an essay either supporting (PRO) or opposing (CON) the proposition. I read the essays and return them with minimal correction (to keep things moving along fast). Then the students have a "panel" debate, where sides and positions are mostly up to them or sometimes chosen randomly.

Here is the panel debate with these BISP1-M kids, which we did on April 10. (Turn the volume down – when I made the video the sound got cranked).

The next class, they are to present memorized 2 minute speeches on the same topic, either PRO or CON (their choice if I'm in a good mood, randomly if I'm not – my mood being contingent on how well they've been doing on other homework and suchlike).

This is what I call the debate speech test, and I use a scoring rubric to give a test score which is their monthly grade. The scoring rubric weights effort and presentation style heavily – it's possible to get an A on the test merely parroting ideas from my own lectures or from the newpaper. This is because I don't see debate class as being primarily about critical thinking or problem solving, but about building confidence and fluency. So in this way, the students often memorize and assemble points from my talking or from each other, too.  I think that's OK.

Here are debate speech tests for this same class, which we did on April 17. (Turn the volume down – when I made the video the sound got cranked).