Every educator has choices, no matter how complex they may be. Sometimes it may be easier to just focus on routine and teach grammar towards a test/exam, thus keeping those who perceive learning as a mere number, satisfied with test scores.
Some of my most memorable lessons have always centred on discussing sensitive issues with students. Obviously, this depends on context and course goals. For instance, when I taught English for Medical Purposes, a springboard towards writing was giving the students the opportunity to think through ethical issues and debate them. When the writing phase followed up, they already had discussed the topic through different lenses and had the necessary scientific lexis and their own ideas to write about. Most importantly, they had actively participated with each other and with the topic at hand, understanding different perspectives while also building up their own arguments.
Language learners, for example, need the opportunity for fluency activities at different levels (though of course, it does make a difference if learners are at a higher level of language ability, e.g. C1, as well as maturity. That though is another discussion).
Kialo offers a wide range of topics of debate and discussion, (again, teachers need to make appropriate decisions as to which topic should be chosen for their learners).
It's really easy for students to collaborate and use:
Kialo may be used before a lesson where students will orally debate or as a follow up
to a class discussion; learners may be given a certain amount of time, for example, a week, to contribute to the discussion. The choice is yours and your learners'.
ProCon is another site which offers a wide range of topics to discuss/debate in class. There is a corner for teachers, highlighting how ProCon may be used, while topics can easily be found in alphabetic order. Many topics also have accompanying videos which add further ideas and interest to the discussions.
Among the many reasons that fostering critical thinking skills is so necessary in education, there is also another perspective - the more informed a learner is, the easier it may become for that learner to make more informed decisions in life.
Debates and discussions are not mis-spent time. Students often need to collaborate and research the topic (again, depending on context and topic). There may be writing follow ups to the discussions as well or other learning artifacts such as video /audio recordings. Depending on level, students may even be given the opportunity to express the outcome or debate experience with a shared visual (see Nik Peachey's Get Students Sharing Opinions ).
Decisions are not always simple to make. However, putting learners' learning experience first and foremost at the centre, giving them time and space to reflect and think through complex and, sometimes, sensitive issues, debate and discuss, (in a safe place - which classrooms should be) does seem to me, an urgent decision to make.
What other resources have you found of interest for debates/class discussions?
Using Debate to Develop Thinking & Speaking Skills
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