New ideas and activities to involve your students in presenting and debating mindfully in English Lessons


Utilizzare le tecniche di debate durante le lezioni di inglese può essere un modo unico per motivare e coinvolgere gli studenti, permettendo loro di sperimentare gli usi dell'inglese autentico.

Donatella Fitzgerald

Using debate in English Lessons can be a way of motivating and engaging students and getting them to use their English in authentic situations.
Where can we start? Being able to give a presentation or engage in constructive debate are essential life skills and many of our students lack these skills. Indeed, when presenting in public they have ‘stage fright’! So to help our students ‘take flight’ and be able to present confidently in public and take part in debates we need to develop these skills in class and plenty of opportunity to practise and get formative feedback.
We can start with helping students develop presentation skills and public speaking skills (which is speaking in front of a live audience usually synchronously (on line or face to face) sometimes using visual aids like a presentation. These are all skills that students can learn. In the course book My Voice (Pearson 2021) there is a section on preparing presentations and the 4 Ps to effective presentations:

Present, Prepare, Practice, Present

Think about your audience. Who are they? Why are you giving the presentation? What message? What is your goal? How much time have you got? Use mind maps to organize your thoughts.

Research your topic and make sure you understand your subject well. Organize your ideas into an Introduction, middle and conclusion. Students can also use a KWL chart to think about what they need to find out. ‘What I know, What I want to Know, What I have learnt. Think about how you will start and create note cards with key words to help you remember what to say.
Here is an example of a KWL chart if you are doing a presentation of a book you are reading.

Practising can help you be more confident when you speak in public. Students can practise in front of a mirror, record their presentation and send it to a study buddy or watch themselves. They can present in front of the family, friends and even pets! Why not!

Ensure you are wearing comfortable clothes and shoes on the day of your presentation. Have all of your files and links open if you are presenting on line, and check internet connections and have a back up copy of your presentation on a usb key. Speak slowly. Do not read your slides and remember to SMILE!

Smiling is contagious. Research demonstrates that it is not just celebrities, but you who can light up a room if you enter smiling or smile while you present. If you like to help others and lift the spirits of everyone you see, just smile.

What can students prepare presentations about? The Amazing Readers Reading Circles project has reading circles ideas where students can work in a group to make a presentation about a book they have read.
For more information: NOVITÀ: i Reading Circles >>

While students are watching presentations it is important that they are fully engaged and using this as a learning opportunity. They should be sitting properly, listening carefully and showing they are engaged. Teachers can also give them a feedback form to complete in English. They can make notes on: What is good about the presentation, what could be improved and any questions they have. They can then give their feedback so it becomes a whole class activity.

So what is a debate?

The dictionary definition is:

A formal discussion of a particular problem, subject etc in which people express different opinions, and sometimes vote on them - LDOCE

Letizia Cinganotto describes debate as: «Debate is a teaching methodology which is becoming more and more popular in schools as it is dynamic, engaging, interactive and help students develop their critical thinking skills, their creativity and fluency in the foreign language».
Handy Guide to Distance Learning Pearson 2020 by Letizia Cinganotto

It is important to consider though as Michael Brand Teacher Trainer from Pearson Espana points out:

«We are not only preparing our students to debate, most of them probably won’t be doing formal debates every day in their working lives, but we’re giving them practice in lots of ‘communicative functions’ like stating, discussing, questioning, defending, justifying, informing, explaining, classifying, proving, persuading, evaluating’.»

In the Handy Guide to Debate Pearson 2020 Letizia Cinganotto outlines two types of debate commonly used in English Teaching.

Formative Debate

Teacher sets learning goals to be attained: skills, competences, content, attitudes but no jury or winning team. Debating to revise content or to test certain subject knowledge, ascribing a mark to the performance, according to specific criteria.

Competitive Debate

Two or more teams, arguing and defending their own positions through evidence, facts and figures.
Proposition/Opposition teams are usually appointed later on.

The General English Course High Note B1 Pearson 2019 proposes five steps to planning and organizing a debate.

1. Propose a motion or controversial statement
2. Make Teams: proposers and opposers
3. Prepare for the debate
4. Hold the debate
5. Provide Feedback

One of the key aspects of debate is a strong argument. "My father used to say: 'Don't raise your voice, improve your argument'." Desmond Tutu

How can we help students develop their argument? Thinking Routines developed by Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School can be useful strategies to help students improve debating skills and understand the topic they are debating. In Amazing Minds New Generation students practice using the Thinking Routine Take a Difference Stance which helps students develop debating skills and open up the opportunity for further explorations of a point of view. In the Handy Guide to Visible Thinking Pearson 2020, Mauro Spicci details the ‘circle of viewpoints’ as a useful routine to help with debating and considering different viewpoints and perspectives in debate, in particular;

Being able to consider different viewpoints
Understand that perspective taking is the best way to understand the complexity of any situation
Avoid narrow mindedness and promote an integrated view of the world
Promote empathy and a culture in which diversity is perceived as a value
Reach a broader and more complete understanding of any topic

There are many ideas for introducing debate into English Language Lessons now integrated into course books. The General English Course High Note (Pearson 2019) includes debate ideas at different language levels.

B1 Children should have to work to earn their pocket money.
B1 Physical appearance affects people’s success in life.
B1 Money is the most important factor in choosing a career.
B1 Criminals do not become better people in prison.
B2 Social media does more harm than good.
B2 Contributing to climate change should be made illegal.
B2 Community service should be a mandatory part of the school curriculum.
B2 Protests and marches in city centres should be banned.

Songs, Film, United Nations Global Sustainable Development Goals, current news topics and English Literature can all be useful springboards for Debate motions. Amazing Minds New Generation (Pearson 2021) has a section Active Investigations and Debate. Here students are guided through scaffolded activities in a process to plan, prepare and deliver the debate from Investigating the question to debating the question.

A popular debate activity is a balloon debate. A balloon debate is a debate in which a number of speakers attempt to win the approval of an audience. The audience is invited to imagine that the speakers are flying in a hot-air balloon which is sinking and that someone must be thrown out to save the others! Speakers have to convince the audience why they have to be saved.

The English Speaking Union offers a wide range of debate topics and tips for public speaking.

Try out a debate in class with a Thinking Routine to help students develop their argument
My Voice B1/B1+ Pearson 2021

«The power of debate consists in overcoming anxiety and fear linked to public speaking, controlling one’s own emotions and feelings, developing critical thinking skills, performing persuasive and solid arguments to support one’s own position.» Letizia Cinganotto Handy Guide to Debate Pearson 2020

Mindfulness can help students who have stage fright and stopping and taking three deep breaths or a simple breathing exercise before a presentation can help the student feel more focused and relaxed.

Why use mindfulness in the classroom? >> 

For more information about how mindfulness can help teachers and students please download the Handy Guide to Mindfulness by Amy Malloy and visit Pearson Italia’s mindfulness page. Here you can watch an introductory video by Ashley Lodge Pearson’s Mindfulness Lead

For opportunities to get your students to meet students in an authentic situation (free of charge) sign up your class for the BBC Pearson Live classes (or alternatively if you are teaching students at home) BBC Pearson Live Lessons

Live Classes is a unique worldwide English learning project for secondary students and their teachers.

In an exciting partnership between Pearson and the BBC, Live Classes give students a unique opportunity to enter an online language classroom. English is so much more than a classroom subject – it’s an essential tool to communicate with other students all over the world.

During and after the lesson, the students not only speak English and improve their communication skills, but they also get to know each other, learning respect and tolerance of diversity

For information on the time of the lesson, the level and how to sign up Pearson & BBC Live Classes >>

So what are you waiting for? Take a look now and book a place on the Pearson BBC Live Classes to give them a truly international experience!

For more ideas on integrating debate into English Language Lessons please see the Handy Guide to Debate Pearson 2020 by Letizia Cinganotto


Donatella Fitzgerald - ELT Sales Manager Pearson is a teacher, teacher trainer and trained to teach paws b, .breathe and .b Mindfulness in Schools project. Her specialist interest areas are Extensive Reading, CLIL, Young Learners, Mindfulness, Debate, Assessment, SEN.

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