A short study on how debate can be a useful tool in helping junior high school students improve second language acquisition

Essay, 2018

7 Pages



Debate is an important and worthwhile way by which to engage students in real language communication. It differs from other forms of classroom communicative activities in that it affords students opportunities to think critically and interact spontaneously to real time questions posed by their peers. While other activities such as role playing, pair and group work and time spent on preparing for presentations are also beneficial to language acquisition, it is my belief that debate better allows students to voice their opinions in English and to listen to and engage in the opinions of their classmates. This is so because in order to win a debate, students have to persuade their peers of the validity of their opinions, which are ideally supported with factual evidence, and demonstrate more convincing dialogue than that of the opposing team.

To that end, this paper will explain in detail the steps adopted at one junior high school to ensure that all students are able to participate fully in a classroom debate and subsequent discussion. A survey was conducted among a group of 162 third year junior high school students to ascertain their views on debate. The findings of the survey will be analyzed and the procedure of the debate will be discussed.


I have been teaching EFL in Japan for a number of years and among the various methodologies I have used in the classroom, the most rewarding and beneficial set of language instruction involves debate. This is due to the fact that students participate fully in the learning experience and, as a result, classes become very much student-centered. Hansen (2007) mentions that in debate classes students should learn rhetorical skills, real-time critical analysis and logical persuasion. This enables learners to gain maximum benefit from their studies and to think critically about the topics raised. The end result is that they become more autonomous in their learning habits.

Using debate as a medium of instruction ensures that no two activities are ever the same, and the teacher is able to improvise and improve upon each class in order to maximize student enthusiasm and learning. This is because students are free to use IT resources such as ipads in the classroom to research and expand upon their own ideas, which means that each debate entails a cornucopia of opinions related to a common theme. Student judges are then free to sift through the myriad of information presented to them before reaching their own conclusions, based on not only facts but also the persuasiveness of the debaters. As debate classes are often videoed, teachers are able to refer to and exploit the better videos when planning future classes. Krashen (1982) suggests that proponents of a No-Consciousness Raising (C-R) approach to language learning advocate that the learner instead be exposed to real language that is a little more difficult to their comprehension and that they be emotionally receptive to the language input in order to gain maximum benefit from their language studies. Debate allows for such exposure to real language in the classroom. It also affords teachers the opportunity to present useful lexis in such a way as to heighten student interest and enable them to take control of the language.

This paper will examine five debate classes at the junior high school third year level - four regular classes and one returnee class — and discuss student feedback after the course of study. Firstly, the context of the research will be mentioned. Then the procedure will be discussed (a full set of lesson plans is available on the JALT website). I will then discuss the difficulties experienced, and the results will then be analyzed before mentioning conclusions and recommendations for future debate classes.


I have been involved in the planning and implementation of debate classes for a number of years and, based on observable evidence, I feel strongly that debate is an ideal medium for students to practice a second language. Nishida (2013) discusses how classroom atmosphere is important in helping to motivate students. She goes on to discuss how project based learning can enhance the atmosphere and motivate students to learn. I believe that debate lets students work together toward a common goal in an atmosphere of friendly rivalry, which helps foster motivation to win. Indeed, I find that students often try to communicate with each other in English when engaged in research, and they seem to enjoy the process of ‘preparing for battle’ immensely. Nunan (1999) also claims that students are enthusiastic about being involved in debate.

However, what a teacher believes to be of benefit to students and how students perceive their language instruction can sometimes be poles apart. Nunan, too, discusses this point when he makes mention of a survey in which students and teachers both held different opinions as to which form of instruction was most beneficial. Therefore, I decided to discover exactly what my students think about debate classes and, in the process, find out if the lessons should be structured differently in order to enhance motivation. To that end, I decided to undergo some in-class action research by asking the students, upon completion of the course of debate, to answer a fifteen-question survey, the results of which will be analyzed later in this paper.


The debates involved five junior high school English classes and numbered 162 students in total. Each class (with the exception of the returnee class) was divided into eight teams of five students, and each team was asked to debate one time. Nunan (1999) discusses learner roles and contributions and suggests that students who are reluctant to speak in large groups of ten or more tend to contribute more to discussion in smaller groups of five or less.

When not taking part in the debate, the students acted as judges and provided feedback. Upon completion of the debates, the students were asked to fill out a fifteen-statement questionnaire. As the students spent a number of weeks preparing for the debates it was considered that they were well versed in the reasons behind doing the debate before completion. The full debate booklet can be accessed from the online appendix (appendix A). It is a thirty-page booklet containing the eight 50- minute lesson worksheets, list of common mistakes made during translation, and English/Japanese Japanese/English lists of useful words and expressions.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

The following table highlights the full debate timetable, which consists of nine 50-minute classes in total. The proposition of this particular debate is: ‘Are school uniforms necessary or not?’ Typical times are indicated in minutes in brackets. Prior to commencing the debate classes, students are familiarized with language pertinent to the debate, and on how to agree and disagree with others’ opinions. They are also provided with Japanese translations of any new or problematic vocabulary encountered during the course of instruction. This sheet can be found in the appendix.


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A short study on how debate can be a useful tool in helping junior high school students improve second language acquisition
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Gerry Mclellan (Author), 2018, A short study on how debate can be a useful tool in helping junior high school students improve second language acquisition, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/441759


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