Activity 28: Two Minute Debates

▶ Duration:  25–30 min
▶ Aim:  Oral fluency practice; disagreeing
▶ Summary:  A series of quick debates in pairs.

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In this activity, the teacher sets a topic and students debate it in pairs. Two minutes is long enough for students to bring up a few key points, but short enough that they do not run out of ideas or become bored. After two minutes, the teacher sets a new topic.

Leading into this activity, you might take the opportunity to introduce some useful expressions. For example, before the class I wrote on the blackboard:

a. I don't agree that...
b. I admit that...
c. That doesn't make sense.
d. That's beside the point.

* * * * *

Woman: You must talk to our daughter! I think she's fallen in love with Mr Zhang, who has no job and no money!

1. Man: Mr Zhang is a bad choice, but ____________________. She's too young to fall in love with anybody!

2. Man: ____________________ she's fallen in love. They're just good friends!

3. Man: ____________________. She told me yesterday that she wants to find a rich businessman to marry.

4. Man: ____________________ Mr Zhang is poor, but he's a very nice man.

Explain to the students that there will be some debates later in the lesson, and these four phrases are useful during an argument or debate. Ask them to discuss with their partner, and decide which word goes where (do not explain the meanings, let them try the exercise first). Afterwards, check the answers (d, a, c, b) and explain if necessary, for example explain that "beside the point" means not relevant. Mark the stress in the last two phrases, and drill them:

That's beside the point.
That doesn't make sense.

Now write on the blackboard: "I think my boyfriend/girlfriend is going to dump me!" (you may need to explain "dump"). Ask the students to imagine that one of their friends has said this to them. Tell them to work in pairs, and think of four different ways to reply, using the four phrases. Afterwards, get some answers from the class.

Now it is time for the first debate, an demonstration with you on one side and the students on the other side. To motivate them, you might promise a reward if they win, for example telling them a joke. You can get one student to stand at the side of the room and be the judge. Try to use the four phrases that you just taught (perhaps point to them on the blackboard as you speak them). A possible topic (write it on the board) is: "Itís better to be a teacher than a student". I always argue the "against" case, with points like:

Next, explain the "two minute debate" activity: students work in pairs, and have two minutes to debate a topic. If you think it is necessary, carry out another demonstration by choosing two students to stand up and debate: write a topic on the board (some ideas are listed below), and assign one to argue "for" and one to argue "against".

Finally, begin the activity proper. Do not let the students decide who is for and against as that would take up too much time, instead just assign a role to each column of desks. Check with a "hands up": who is for? Who is against? Tell them not to start the debate until you say so. Write up a topic, and give them two minutes to debate. After each debate, ask for a few arguments as feedback, but do not spend too much time on this or it will interrupt the momentum of the activity. Four or five debates is enough. Some possible topics are:


Since the students have no time to prepare, the topics should be fairly simple, and relevant.

The method described here is fairly lengthy. If students are already familiar with debating, then one or both of the demonstrations (teacher vs class, and student vs student) could be skipped.

An easy way to lead smoothly into the next activity or lesson focus is to make the last debate topic relate to it.

This is also a good activity to pave the way to more formal styles of debating.

In subsequent lessons, this activity could be repeated with just one or two topics as a warmer or a filler.

If you happen to have a class arranged in groups of three, you could get two students to debate a topic and have the third one act as judge, giving comments or advice after the debate.
Rating: 4 stars

A motivating, communicative activity. The drawback is that only about 10 minutes is spent on the pairwork itself, with a lot of time taken up by demonstrating the activity beforehand and getting feedback afterwards.

An inspiring lesson, thx
17.09.2005 , 13:30

I like your idea. It is very good for beginners and who learn English as a their foreign language. More power to your website and to the contributor of this! thank you
irene []
11.11.2005 , 15:53

whoahh you just saved my life. teaching conversation english in taiwan isn't the funnest thing to do. now at least i get to spend 20 mins explaining the whole thing. :) thanks so much!!
arna []
25.12.2005 , 13:21

Great idea! I love it and I will try it out in my class this week for sure. I'm from South Africa and I teach in a college in Inner Mongolia.Thanks a lot! God bless!!
okolo ebere []
06.03.2006 , 12:11

Great idea - I'm teaching in NE China and the lessons are long and we have no textbooks - all of these activities have got me racking my nrains back to my teaching course and beyond. Good on you for doing the site I was starting to grey!
Louise []
14.03.2006 , 17:55