Making Use of an Online Debate Site

The Internet is full of resources for ESL, although many of them are not actually designed to facilitate language learning. The trick is finding a good site among the thousands out there. Then you must consider how to put the site to good use.

I recently stumbled upon the site of I.D.E.A., the International Debate Education Association. This site has a good-sized database of topics, from global climate change to sports. For each topic, there is some background info provided (labeled as “context”). This introductory paragraph could be used as a reading or listening passage (with the teacher reading aloud). Appropriate vocabulary should be highlighted. Each page then presents in two-column form the pros and cons, followed by all the possible motions (conclusions). There is also a “Database Junior,” which seems to have been created for younger students. The language seems at a lower reading level than the main database, making it accessible for intermediate students.

Teaching tools on this site include suggested exercises, such as an argument assembly activity that requires students to work together to assemble the pieces of an argument into a logical order. (The teacher will have cut up the argument beforehand.) This great exercise integrates reading and speaking skills and develops their critical thinking skills as well. Other possibilities I’ve thought of include:

  • Class debates with the two sides represented by two groups of students, who are given time to gain familiarity with the information from the site before the start of the debate.


  • Paired presentations in which each student is assigned a position on a main point. Debate topics generally have around 5-7 points with each point discussed from two different positions (pro and con). This works out well for classes of 10-14 students. Presentations are made in twos, so partners should prepare together. Students are given time to gain familiarity with the information from the site, but during the actual presentation they may not read.  


  • Writing practice at the sentence level, paragraph level, or essay level. At the sentence or paragraph level, students should only work with one main point and its pros and cons. They can use the information to practice statements of contrast: although, despite, etc. They can also use the information for one main point to structure a paragraph. They’ll need to compose a unifying topic sentence, insert a transition from pro to con, and end with a concluding sentence. At the essay level, several of the key points can be used from a given debate topic. You might teach them the point-by-by format (pro-con for Point 1, pro-con for Point 2, etc.) and assist them in developing a thesis statement, introduction, and conclusion.


  • Independent study is certainly possible via the online forums run by I.D.E.A. Students can not only read other debates online, they may also write on a discussion board. The discussion threads I reviewed were civil and stimulating, making it an appropriate place for our language learners to engage in self-expression.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Chiew says:

    One of my highlights of last year was when I introduced the concept of debating to my 4ºESO students (equivalent to your sophomores, I think); I’d chosen the Mace system, and I was surprised at their enthusiasm. I adapted the rules – I had 3 speakers/team, reduced the time allowed, etc.
    Ok, their level of English and their debating skills are very much under par, but what I found most encouraging was the fact that I got to hear ss who needed extra coaxing to open up in everyday classes!
    I refrain from saying too much here, as this topic is one I have pending on my ‘next post’ list for my blog, so stay tuned!

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