Learn how to use authentic texts to teach participating in a debate. There is also a sample worksheet and teacher’s notes with tips for you to download.

Speaking - debates

Teaching approaches such as Communicative Language Learning popularised in recent years mean that students get plenty of opportunities to speak in class. However, they still need structured speaking tasks, especially imitating formal settings. Debates are a great way to practice because they often evoke emotional responses which helps long-term learning. Authentic news articles are perfect as a starting point for such debates because real-life issues are much more meaningful and engaging.


How to choose a suitable source

To use an authentic text for debates, you need to select a text that can spark debate and generate different points of view. Consider the following questions:

  • Will students find this text interesting? (e.g., is it something relevant to their lives or sufficiently foreign to be interesting? How have students reacted to this kind of text in the past?)
  • Is it nuanced enough, or will everyone tend to be pro or against? (e.g., most students will probably be supportive of free public education)
  • What information from the text could students use to help them come up with arguments? (e.g., what ideas are supported in the text, and what are the counter arguments to those ideas?)
  • What other target language will be useful in the debate? (e.g., if the debate is about trading versus cash, come up with a lexical set related to the topic: swap, second-hand, buy, consume, cash, value, etc.)


How to structure your lesson

Teaching participating in a debate can be introduced with any teaching approach, such as Task-Based learning, Guided Discovery or Presentation–Practice–Production. When introducing a text for the purpose of participating in a debate, start with engaging students with both the topic of the text and its character. This will activate students’ schemata.

Follow these steps for using authentic news articles for teaching participating in a debate:


Activate students’ schemata when using authentic materials

When using an authentic text, it is important to keep in mind where students might encounter it. Nowadays students are likely to see news articles on the internet or in their social media feed. Activate their knowledge about the topic of an article by having them read the title and subtitle and eliciting what they may know about it before reading. You can ask students what they think about the topic in general, or create a few quick discussion questions as a lead-in.


Get students engaged with authentic texts


Students read the article carefully. If they need more guidance, ask them to pick and underline a specific number of things they agree and disagree with e.g., three things that they think are true or good points, and one thing that they are unsure about or disagree with.

For engagement with authentic materials, let students express their real opinions about the text. Ask if they agree or disagree with any of the ideas. This personal response will also motivate them to process the text more carefully and help them generate their own arguments for the debate.


Preparing the debate

First, students check their global understanding of the article. Then, present them with the task, outlining the two points of view and referring back to the text. You can either assign students to each team or let them pick. Next, they prepare for the debate by brainstorming arguments for and against. Encourage students to look up useful vocabulary, and elicit and write these words or phrases on the board.

Depending on the number of students in the class, you can set a whole class debate with two separate teams, or several teams that will debate simultaneously. Choosing several teams will allow students to have more individual speaking time. If you think students will benefit, you can assign a monitor or moderator for each pair of teams, who will run the debate and make sure that each team gets an equal amount of time for each round. Alternatively, you can run the structure of the debate in lockstep with the whole class. Agree with the class beforehand on the length of each turn and the number of turns for each team. Set a timer for each turn and do not allow interruptions. This could look like:


  • Team A presents main arguments
  • Team B presents main arguments
  • Team A presents more arguments and counters those presented by Team B
  • Team B presents arguments and counters those presented by Team A
  • (short break)
  • Team A counter arguments and clarifying
  • Team B counter arguments and clarifying
  • Team A conclusion
  • Team B conclusion


Run the debate

Remind students to use the handy phrases such as ‘I’m not sure I agree’ when they participate in the debate. You could do this by asking students to include some of these in their notes or adding an incentive like a points system where teams can gain points for using more of these phrases.

Monitor the debate closely and only participate to moderate or clear up any doubts. You can note down any errors or teaching points to address after the debate or in the following lesson.


Follow up

Students reflect on their opinions and summarise them in a short voice recording.


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