ESL debating lessons

Debates in your ESL lessons can be a fantastic way to get your students speaking in an extended way. It also gives your students an ideal platform to give their opinions on a range of topics and interact with each other and you, the English teacher. Debating language is very useful for adult students to learn and can be used again and again in discussion when using English.

In this ESL movie lesson, you'll be showing your students clips from the movie The Great Debators, starring and directed by Denzel Washington. In The Great Debators, Washington stars in the true story of a motivational teacher at an American College for black only students from whom he forms a debate team to take on the nation's finest debating team, Harvard University. 

In this lesson, your students will be hearing authentic debating language and practicing giving opinions using English. Included in the free ESL debating language lesson plan is a list of topics and discussion questions aimed at varying levels of English students from Pre-Intermediate through to Advanced. 

Debating Language for ESL Students
In my opinion...
As far as I'm concerned...
I strongly believe that...
If it were up to me...
I'm convinced that...
I think...
The way I see it...
I'd like to...
It is fairly certain that...
Without a doubt...
I suspect that...
I honestly feel that…

Download the movie lesson below for the ESL debating lesson, along with over 50 different debating topics and ESL debating questions.

by Stuart Allen
Published in Movie lessons
It was a day that changed the world forever, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 on the World Trade Centre changed how we live or lives today and travel. Anyone old enough to have been around on that fateful day on September 1th 2001 will almost certainly remember where they were and how they felt when they heard the news that two passenger planes had purposely been flown into both towers of the World Trade Centre, New York, causing the deaths of thousands of innocent lives and billions of dollars in damage.

This ESL News lesson will be very interesting to English students and they'll certainly have opinions to share about this topic. 

There are a number of reading comprehension exercises to do in this class, perfect for intermediate and advanced students, those preparing for IELTS exams, or university / adult students. 

by Stuart Allen
Published in News lesson plans
In 1986, scientists were carrying out safety checks at the nuclear power station in Chernobyl, Ukraine (then part of the Soviet Union). There was an unforeseen power spike sending readings dangerously high. Minutes later, the heat inside the nuclear reactor had become so hot that the cooling rods designed to cool the reactor to safe levels had buckled and could not drop into place. From that moment, the reactor was doomed and there was a catastrophic explosion which blew off the roof of the reactor and caused radiation to be blown high into the air and the surrounding countryside. The Chernobyl Disaster is still the world's worst nuclear disaster.

The aims of this English News Lesson about Chernobyl are:

To read an authentic news article in English and improve their reading skills (e.g. reading for gist, reading for information) 

To acquire new vocabulary in a natural way (i.e. through reading a news article like we do in our native language) 
To have a discussion about peace in order for students to practice reasoning skills and to make them think

by Phil Senior
Published in News lesson plans
Every year, millions of Chinese students face the biggest challenge of their young lives by taking on the Gaokao exam - China's be-and-end-all test to see which students can enter which university. Failure in this exam can be disaster for the dreams of many young Chinese people and they will endure many sleepless nights revising for the exam and worrying about if they will pass it.

This ESL News lesson looks at the exam in a slightly different way in that the pressure to succeed and do well in this exam is so great, that a few people will try to cheat their way to sucess in the exam.

This News English lesson will be very relevant and interesting to students, especially in China. 

There are a number of different activities for your students to do, including colloquation activites, debate and discussion activities and other comprehension excercises. This will also be good for students in later middle school, high school, university or in preparation for an IELTS or TOEFL exam.

by Phil Senior
Published in News lesson plans
Made in Britain stars Tim Roth in one of his first roles as Trevor, a teen delinquent who hates authority and refuses to conforn to what society wants or expects. Trevor is actually very intelligent, but has become disillusioned by modern 1980's Britain and the education system. He has been convicted of stealing, taking drugs, shopplifting, vandalism and violent behaviour. He has become criminal and a racist, and prison beckons if he does not change his ways. This lesson is only suitable for adults.

For this lesson, you'll need the Made in Britain DVD. In ordering this, you'll also be helping us.

This film is for adult students ONLY! Under no circumstances should this film be shown to minors. The film shows scenes of violence and extreme racist views. The lesson plan should only be used with mature, open-minded students, who feel comfortable watching and discussing such content in an open class environment.  The use of this lesson plan is wholly at the discretion of the teacher. It is essential that the teacher watches the suggested film clips in their entirety before choosing whether or whether not to use this plan. 

ESL Adults discussion questions on teenage crime and delinquency

Show the film clips first before having the discussion. Make sure to lead-in to the activity in your own way first.

Are parents to blame for juvenile delinquency?
Should children who hate going to school be given something else to do?
Is corporal punishment a good idea for naughty children?
Should naughty children be rewarded for good behaviour with money instead of punished for bad behaviour?
Should parents of juvenile delinquents be sent to prison when their children misbehave?
How would you deal with Trevor? What is his 
What kind of problems do the young have in your country?
How does your country deal with juvenile delinquency? Do you think it is a good system?
If you were in your country’s government, what would you do differently?
Will juvenile delinquency ever go away? Why/why not?
What is the cure to juvenile delinquency?
Clip One (Start to 4:30mins)
The film starts with Trevor in court being convicted for a racist attack on an Asian man’s home. He is sent to a detention centre for children.
Clip Two (6:37mins to13:25mins)
Trevor arrives at the detention centre and is told about a contract he must sign to promise to behave. He pesters a staff member there to give him some money and goes out to the job centre. On the way, he steals a car and buys glue to sniff and get high. He abuses the job centre staff and throws a paving slab through the window.
Clip Three (18:02mins to 38:34mins)
The detention centre find out about the stolen car and refuse him lunch. He attacks the cook at the canteen for not serving him lunch. The centre workers lock him in a room to calm down and then a senior staff member come to look at his future. This scene is key for your class discussion! It is the foundation for your discussion. Stop the film and turn off the TV at “Yeah, he’s a waste of time”.

Lesson written by Stuart Allen
Published in Movie lessons
Lost was an HBO smash hit about a plane which crashes onto a deserted island thousands of miles from anywhere and the world believes the plane lost. In reality, many of the passengers are still very much alive. Lost continued for many years.

This is a supplementary activity for intermediate or advanced students who want to learn a few verbs in present continuous form which they may not have come across before. Advanced level students are always eager to come across new words and this is an exciting way to teach them something different.

To run this high-level present continuous TV lesson, you'll need the first episode of Lost Season 1 of Lost S01E01 - you can download this here. 

Before class, you should print out the jigsaw puzzle containing the words on page 3. You need to arrange your students into groups of three; you should make one copy per group. Cut up the puzzle pieces using scissors or a craft knife and paper clip the pieces together. Each group of three will now have a neat bundle of puzzle pieces. Remember to shuffle up each group’s pieces before you paperclip them together! (Tip: white card is better than white paper.)
In class:
Play the first episode of Lost (season one), where the plane crashes onto a desert island and everyone is in a state of panic and shock. Groups need to watch the movie and put the puzzle pieces into a pile in the order that they see the action. When the movie clip has finished, the students should put the pieces together from left to right, then right to left, then left to right, then right to left (as shown on page 4). If they have got the order right, then the puzzle should fit neatly together.
You should play the episode from the very start until 15:16mins. You might want to play the clip twice if your students need to see it again. 
Have fun! 
Published in Movie lessons
Divorce rates around the world, particularly in China, are going up and up. Kramer vs Kramer is a brilliant movie for ESL discussion classes to look at divorce, the causes of divorce, who should get what, and importantly, the custody of children after divorce.

In Kramer vs Kramer, Ted and Joanna have decided to divorce. Ted would like Joanna to come back, but she has moved on with her life and wants a clean break. After a year of travelling and starting a new life, she has now decided that she wants to fight Ted for custody of their son, Billy. Ted is against this, because she ran away for a year and he has struggled to become a good dad. Joanna feels that she is the mother and so has the automatic right to take care of their son. Students must debate and decide who should get custody of Billy.

If you want to teach this ESL divorce debate and discussion roleplay and need to by Kramer vs Kramer, then click here 

How to Approach the Lesson
Introduce the topic of divorce. Perhaps ask the students to get into pairs or small groups to think of problems that people might face in their adult lives. After a few minutes, write down their ideas on the board i.e. debt, job problems, marriage problems. Ask the students which of their suggestions are most common. Divorce is bound to come up and once it does, start moving the conversation wholly in this direction.
Ask the students what kind of problems and difficulties come as a result of divorce. The students are likely to offer things such as depression, family pressure, money and child custody. Again, once child custody is raised, talk about this in more detail.

It is important to get the child custody/divorce topic well discussed before playing the movie. It generates interest in what they are watching and the students will get far more out of the lesson.
Play the movie clips as shown in the free lesson plan accompanying this page. Make sure that you have watched the clips before hand so you are familiar with the clips!
After you have finished watching the clips, stop the DVD and tell the class that Joanne has come back and now wants full custody of Billy. Ask the class if they think it is fair or not and ask the class to give their reasons.
Divide the class into two groups. One group must argue for Ted to retain custody of Billy. The other group are in favour of Joanna getting custody of Billy. Give each student the info slip corresponding with who they support.
Tell the class that they have ten minutes to prepare arguments in support of either Ted or Joanne. After ten minutes, bring the two groups back together and let them debate who should get custody of Billy. The teacher should act as a neutral referee, only getting involved when necessary.
After the debate, maybe have a secret ballot to decide who gets custody of Billy. You can also have an open class discussion, using some of the divroce discussion questions below as a starter.

Divorce Discussion Questions for ESL Students

Divorce rates are climbing each year. What is the reason for this?
Should divorce be made illegal?
Do you think people get divorced to easily and quickly these days?
Who should usually get custody of children following divorce?
How much should the parent who doesn’t have custody of the child pay each month to the parent with custody?
How does divorce affect children?
Should parents ever continue in a loveless marriage to protect their children’s feelings?
Would divorce be less common if couples lived together for at least two years before marrying?
Why do celebrity marriages often end in divorce?
How do you feel about young, attractive women marrying older men i.e. a 25 year-old woman marrying a 70 year-old man? Should she get any money in the event of a divorce?
Is divorce a big problem in your country? Why?
Divorces usually end in a 50/50 settlement. Is this fair?
If you divorce, are you a failure?
ESL Class Divorce Debate 
Arguments for Ted Kramer to have full custody of Billy Kramer
Ted Kramer has looked after Billy for the past year, even though he admits that he has found it difficult
Ted quit his high salary, high pressure job to spend more time with Billy and to learn to be a better father.
Ted has proven his love for Billy
Joanna has a new job, which means that she will be working much of the time
Joanna walked out on Billy before. Maybe she will walk out on him again?
Joanna said in the lift that she was a bad mother and that Ted could look after Billy better than her.
Arguments for Joanna Kramer to have full custody of Billy Kramer
She is the mother and can probably look after Billy better
She is more experienced at looking after Billy, as she looked after him full-time before
She has found a new job with a high salary. Billy can now live better and go to a good school
She says that she was not thinking straight before because of the stress of living with Ted. She would never walk out on Billy again. 
Ted admits that he has found it tough to look after Billy in the last year. 

Lesson by Stuart Allen

Stuart Allen
Published in Movie lessons
John Q is about a nine-year old boy who falls dangerously ill with a previously undiagnosed heart condition. His hard-up family find that their medical insurance doesn't cover the costs of their son's illness and if they can't raise the money for an operation, their son will die. The movie investigates the problems with health systems and asks the question Should healthcare be free for all?

This movie lesson is perfect for older teens and adults who are on the topic of health or if you want to encourage a debate on whether healthcare should or can be free in your country. There is plenty of speaking and also a brilliant roleplay activity with roleplay cards should you wish to have an ESL roleplay class with caracter cards. (These cards are free to print in the downloadable lesson plan).

To buy the movie John Q for this lesson please click here

Classroom Activities to run with John Q

Activity One - Free Health Care vs Paid-Health Care debate
After watching Movie Clip Scenes 1 (please see John Q lesson plan), divide your students into two teams. One side argues for the benefits of free health care for all (but everyone’s taxes have to go up to cover it), while the other side argues for medical insurance with lower taxes for all
Activity Two - Students devise their own medical system
After watching Movie Clip Scenes 1 (please see John Q lesson plan), students must devise their own new medical system and present their system to the class. How can the Mike situation’ be avoided? The best new system is the winner and the teacher can award certificates/prizes
Activity Three - John Q scenes roleplay
After watching Movie Clip Scenes 2 (please see John Q lesson plan), hand-out to your students the role-play cards and recreate scenes from the movie! If you have a small class, you can do the whole thing or give selected scenes to groups from a larger class and put the whole thing together. Why not film it to make a mini-movie?

Lesson by Stuart Allen
Stuart Allen
Published in Movie lessons
Deep Impact was one of a rash of global disaster movies that came out in the last ten years or so. However it's a movie that I actually very much enjoy. The threat of impending doom, armageddon and the end of the earth is almost exciting for movie makers and film-watchers alike.

Deep Impact is about an End-of-the-World asteroid hitting the earth and our preparations of survival as a human race by building an undergorund bunker with limited space and supplies so the human race can continue (although most will die).

I decided that this would make a brilliant discussion lesson for older teens and adults about who would best go into the underground bunker: everyday people or the elite. Eventually I wrote this ESL discussion lesson and it turned out to be a belter...I hope you like it in your adults ESL classes. 

Can't find Deep Impact online? You can order it cheaply right here.

The Set Up

A meteor is heading on its way to Earth. Scientists have spotted it coming into our galaxy and it will hit the earth with so much force, that most life on the planet will die. There is nothing world governments can do about it. No way to stop it. No way to change its course. The meteor is so big that it will be lucky if any life survives. It is known a ‘Global Killer’.

The Creation of the Bunker: Genesis II
The major governments of the world agree to put their differences aside to find some kind of solution. They put in lots of money and manpower each to build an underground safe haven. It is so deep underground that the effects of the meteor will not be felt. It will support life for 50 years. After that, the people in it could come out again and build life on earth once more. They have named the underground bunker Genesis II
Genesis II will hold 100,000 people. It will have schools, hospitals and recreation areas. Food will be rationed. There are no shops. Everyone has the same clothes and tokens to buy what they need. Business is banned and the Genesis II government will control everything.

Randomly Chosen people or Cherry Picked?
Some world leaders want the people going into Genesis II to be chosen randomly by a computer. Other world leaders think that the Genesis II population should be handpicked, depending on their field of expertise.
The Benefits of Randomness
Genesis II population is roughly half male/half female. Crucial to ‘earth rebirth’ and a good balance of genetic material.
All races, creeds, gender, religions, sexuality and culture will be represented fairly and freely.
The poor will have an equal chance to survive as the rich.
It is morally correct.
It will be easier to form social order within Genesis II.
Culture and lifestyle rely on balance. Only by a lottery will this be achieved.
There are many skilled people who are not considered the ‘best of the best’.

The Benefits of Chossing Best of the Best
It makes sense to choose the ‘best of the best’. There are only 100,000 places. It is crucial that experts make up these places.
A lottery system leaves open a strong chance that undesirables can get in there e.g. criminals, drug addicts, etc.
A lottery system would allow the elderly, the sick and the disabled in there. The elderly cannot contribute to new life and the sick would put a strain on resources and spread diseases.
A lottery system would allow homosexuals places. They will not have children, and as such, are a waste of a place.
A mixture of religion and race may cause war. We should handpick those with no beliefs. 

What to Do in Class
Make sure you get yourself a copy of Deep Impact on DVD or video file. The night before your class, watch the selected scenes detailed below to get a feel for how to present the class. Please be aware that this debate class is centred around the selected scenes only – the idea Genesis II was created by me and doesn’t appear in the film!
Before playing the movie, start to prepare your English class by setting the context. Ask them what problems the world faces. Put them into small groups to think of six or seven problems and give them five minutes to discuss. Get feedback after and write their ideas on the board. You will probably get the usual talk of global warming and war, so after listening to them and talking about it, gently steer their thinking towards events which could actually destroy the earth altogether. 
The class will now give fresh ideas such as nuclear war, natural disasters, disease…and then some bright spark will mention a meteor strike (happens every time!) When they do, catch onto this and expand this idea, asking students if there is anything we can do about it, or anyways we can prepare if we have advanced warning. Let the class give and share their ideas until you feel they are ready to move to the movie stage.
Movie time! Watch the selected clips detailed in the free lesson plan below!
When you have finished watching the meteor hit the earth, explain to the class that before the meteor struck, the world had a year to prepare and built Genesis II. Give out the ESL handout The Situation (p.2) to every student and give them a few minutes to read. Tell the class that they are going to debate which system is best to fill Genesis II. Divide the class into two (don’t put all the strongest students on one team; try to spread the ability into both teams). Print-out and give each group member some debate tips on p.3 – it will give them some ideas for their arguments.

Giving time to prepare their arguments for the debate

Finally, give them ten minutes to prepare their arguments and let them go at it! Good luck!

Make sure you give each group preparation time. This is a tricky debate; you will always get better results from students by giving them sufficient time to get ready. This class should last over an hour.
Optional idea: without warning, just when the arguments are starting to peter-out, get the groups to swap sides with only 5 minutes preparion time. Don’t tell them you are going to do this, surprise them! They now have to debate AGAINST the arguments tey have only just been supporting!! Always brings lots of laughs!!
Written by Stuart Allen

Stuart Allen
Published in Movie lessons
In Back to the Future, Marty McFly accidentally travels back in time in a DeLorean time machine and finds himself in 1955 with no way of getting back. His hometown is completely different with the music, fashion, shops, streets and people all from the past. 

Back to the Future can be used with intermediate and advanced level English classes when on a unit about travel, talking about the past or talking about the future. Show your ESL class the clips shown in the lesson plan below, then give out the character roleplay cards. Students then do a Back to the Future roleplay.

Need to download the movie for your ESL class? Click here to go to Amazon, you'll be helping us too!

Your students watch clips of the movie and then play characters such as Marty McFly, Biff, 3D, Doc Brown, Lorraine Baines, Goldie Wilson, George McFly, Mr. Strickland, etc. Awesome English lesson!!

Written by Stuart Allen

Stuart Allen
Published in Movie lessons
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