AEIS Newsletter

AEIS News, Volume 7:2 (October 2010)

by User Not Found | 11/01/2011
In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • Letter from the Chair
    • AEIS Steering Committee
  • Articles
    • The Amazing Flexible Do-It-Yourself Conversation Cards
    • Building Survival Skills in Adult English Learners
    • Doable Debate in the Second Language Classroom: A Methodology
    • Resources of Note: "PowerPoint Games for Reinforcement and Fun"
  • Announcements
    • A New Look for the Newsletter
    • Kirsten Schaetzel Receives Service Award
    • Convention Proposals
    • NIFL Closing

Leadership Updates Letter from the Chair

Toni F. Borge, Director, Adult Education and Transitions Program, Bunker Hill Community College, Boston, MA,

Dear Adult Education Interest Section Members,

I am honored to serve as chair of our IS this year. I am the director of the Adult Education and Transitions Program at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston and have been working in the field of adult education for over 25 years. Like all of us, I have great passion for the work I do. Last month, at the annual celebration of achievement ceremony in my local program, one of the student speakers was Reina from El Salvador. Reina did not have an opportunity to attend school in El Salvador because of the civil war. When she arrived here, unable to speak English, she enrolled in the program. She talked about the challenges she faced: the difficulty of finding a job and not being able to communicate with her children's teachers or doctors. Yet she persevered because of her commitment to provide her children with a better life and because of the encouragement of her ESOL teachers. Now, she has enrolled in the GED class and wants to get a degree in business so she can manage a bakery.

Reina's story represents many of our students and our global community. We see this story repeated time after time in our classrooms. This is the reason we remain so passionate and committed to the field of adult education. We have relied upon these experiences to keep us going because we are fully aware that our sector of the education field does not receive the funding and benefits that our peers (teachers, staff, and administrators) deserve nor does our limited funding meet the overarching needs of our adult students for classes.

Yet, we keep going. We have large and strong voices and use them to advocate for more funding and to educate the public about the contributions the immigrant population makes to our communities. I ask you to continue to advocate for our adult student community. For those members who live and work in the United States, Congress has yet to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act. Please contact your elected representatives and ask them to add funds to the adult education line item and bring the reauthorization to the forefront. You can tell them that once our adult students improve their language skills they can then take classes to get their GED, be eligible for job promotions, and enroll in postsecondary education. These steps lead to increased income for their families. This positive impact is reflected in the communities where immigrants reside. Immigrants become active members of the community, create and support local businesses, and serve as role models for their children. Clearly, immigrants' determination and perseverance toward achieving their goals benefit the community as a whole.

For those members who live outside of the United States, you demonstrate to your communities that educating adults is equally important as educating children. Education brings understanding and respect for difference, and an educated adult will be able to contribute more to the economy of the country.

Thank you for your dedication and service to our field. During this year, as I serve as AEIS chair, please don't hesitate to contact me

I look forward to seeing you in New Orleans next March.

All the best,
Toni F. Borge

AEIS Steering Committee

Officers and Steering Committee Contact Information 2010-2011

Chair Toni Borge (

Chair-Elect Philip Less (

Associate Chair Milcah Ochieng (

Past Chair Kirsten Schaetzel (

Members-at-Large Felicitas Coates (


Gilda Rubio-Festa (

Sarah Young (

Newsletter Editor Laurie Martin (

Web/E-list Manager Beth Wallace (

Articles The Amazing Flexible Do-It-Yourself Conversation Cards

Judi Barr,

Nancy Winbigler,

Term after term, on their evaluations, our students rank Conversation Cards as the most useful and enjoyable classroom activity. What began as a way to encourage hesitant beginning speakers to use their minimal English abilities has blossomed into a multifaceted tool to enhance communication in all the levels we teach.

There are three formats for using the cards:

  • Basic Conversations
  • Cocktail Conversations
  • Cocktail Conversation Double Trade


Benefits to Teachers

Conversation Cards break down barriers, stimulate conversation, and provide an energetic launch for the class. Able to be tailored to any group, these easy-to-create tools can be used effectively to improve a student's ability to listen, speak, and think in English. Once students have been given simple "how to" instructions, teachers have a self-starting class every day, so that they

  • begin with energized, English-ready students;
  • have a consistent classroom routine, wasting no time getting started;
  • are free to do classroom housekeeping such as setting up media and returning homework while students work productively;
  • can easily set up groups with tutors or classroom aides;
  • can instantly involve late arrivals without interrupting other students;
  • can easily note if anyone isn't involved;
  • can discover what students don't know and address gaps on the spot;
  • can work with individual students;
  • have an easy way to introduce, reinforce, and review material; and
  • have an easy transition into the lesson of the day.

As an added bonus, teachers can take a set of cards with them when substituting, or leave them for the sub in their own classes.

Benefits to Students

Between 2001 and 2006, Portland State University and Portland Community College managed the Adult ESL Lab School where research included the role of dyadic interaction in second language acquisition. This research showed that "interaction provides learners with opportunities to receive comprehensible input and feedback (Gass, 1997; Long, 1996; Pica, 1994, as cited in Center for Applied Linguistics [CAL], 2010) and make changes in their own linguistic output (Swain, 1995, as cited in CAL, 2010, "Motivation," para 2)." The study found that "the rate of positive feedback that adult learners received from peers is associated with their course level promotion (Reigel, 2008, as cited in CAL, 2010, "Instructional Strategies," para 1). . . . Teachers need to find ways to incorporate and maximize positive peer feedback" and to encourage group cohesion, which in turn creates an atmosphere that is conducive to learning.

In our experience, we have observed that students who make friendships in class are more likely to attend regularly. In addition, they are more relaxed and confident in speaking, and participate more in class.

By using Conversation Cards in each class, students

  • get acquainted with classmates and become part of a community;
  • interact closely with those from different cultures, often for the first time;
  • gain confidence and security from a structured daily routine;
  • are engaged in English immediately upon entering the classroom;
  • practice newly acquired forms and vocabulary in a safe environment;
  • feel less "on the spot" with a familiar prop in their hands;
  • encounter new vocabulary in context and negotiate meaning together;
  • begin each class with low stress, because conversations are heavily supported and students can see that no one knows all the answers; and
  • are prepared to think in English before the day's lesson begins.

Conversation Cards benefit all types of students: Auditory and visual learners automatically love using them, whereas kinesthetic learners often enjoy acting out unfamiliar vocabulary. Fluency is the objective; using the same questions with different partners fosters automaticity, the basis of fluency. Because of the variety of first languages (L1s), students must really listen to each other and, in speaking, focus on functional intelligibility, that is, English that is not necessarily "perfect," just easy enough for their listeners to understand. Receiving answers to their questions is the positive feedback that motivates even the most beginning student to continue talking. As self-confidence and motivation foster success, the comfortable, supportive atmosphere of a room full of students with the same goal enhances learning.

Using the Cards

For the lowest level, begin with simple "wh" questions: What is your first name? Where are you from? After teaching classroom language and prepositions, you can add questions such as "Where is the clock?"

Cards may be distributed on desks before students enter the room, one card for each pair, or left in a stack near the door.

After the first week, encourage students to choose a new partner each day, preferably someone with a different L1, or assign partners. Although students may have initial hesitation, they'll soon know everyone and, in our experience, will make new, sometimes unexpected friends, which is great for building class cohesion and community; the better the students know each other, the more they want to interact.

Introduce "do" questions, and model how to choose appropriate "wh" follow-up questions. Challenge them to talk as long as possible about each question, to use "all the English you know."

Ask students to take turns, but don't "get involved" unless one person is constantly monopolizing.

Do not allow pencils; if students want to practice at home, let them copy the questions during break.

Do not allow dictionaries or electronic translators; negotiating meaning is part of the fun! As Lin (2002) pointed out, students do "not have to know every single word in order to get new information."

Encourage them to help each other with vocabulary and pronunciation; they'll soon be enjoying working things out together. Be available for questions as you circulate, but avoid long explanations while students are talking. Instead, carry a notepad, or note on the board any items to explain to the class at the end of the conversations.

Eventually, the cards may become props, as students discover they have things to talk about. Go with it! Nothing on a card is as valuable as a natural exchange of information between friends at the beginning of class¯as long as it's in English!

Ask higher level students to write questions and create cards. They are likely to be proud of having their work used by other students.

The Cards

Create sets of Conversation Cards by typing 20 questions and pasting 10 on each side of an index card. Especially in the upper levels, making sets specific to your own coursework is extremely useful for practice, reinforcement, and review. Listed below are card sets found on our Web site (

Level One Cards Level Two Cards Level Three Cards Level Four and Up Cards


Action Cards


Tag Questions

"Be" Verbs

Irregular Past


Children and Family

Do You And Do You Have


Is She/He

Crime and Punishment


First Week

Language Awareness

"Have You Ever...?"

Personal Info and Family


Past Tense With "Used To"

Multi-Tense General Review




Politics and Social Issues

Language Awareness and Study Habits

Student-Created Cards

Present Perfect

Love and Romance


Recreation and Vacation

Past Tense Life Events

Misc. Questions

Past Tense


Teaching upper levels means there is less time for conversation and a need for more focused grammar practice. With a cocktail party format, students can review grammatical structures, writing rules, verb tenses, and vocabulary in an enjoyable, light-hearted atmosphere that reinvigorates their energy and fosters community as they circulate in search of their match. This is especially useful if students are stressing before a final examination. Besides, there are other benefits.


  • express what they have learned;
  • use speaking and listening skills;
  • find out what they haven't retained or don't understand;
  • are sometimes more at ease working with a partner to find an answer than they are raising their hand in class; and
  • cooperate with each other in negotiating meaning.
  • mingle with students;
  • hear students using what they have learned;
  • hear errors and note areas that need more instruction;
  • are on-the-spot to help;
  • model correct forms one-on-one during interactions with students; and
  • can do a whole-class reinforcing review before collecting the cards.

Using the Cards

Cocktail party cards can be adapted to all levels and are a superb tool for review. Create as many cards as there are students in the class, writing only one question or statement on each card. With card in hand, each student stands up, finds a partner, asks the question on the card, and answers his or her partner's question. Students then trade cards. Both find new partners and repeat the pattern until they have talked to all their classmates. As a follow-up review activity for the whole class, students can read their cards and give the answers.

Specific Uses for Cocktail Party Cards

1. Tense Review
Give each student a card with a sentence in the simple present tense. Announce the tense that is to be practiced. Each student reads the basic sentence to his or her partner who restates it using the new tense. Pairs exchange cards and find other partners. If more than one tense is to be reviewed, name a new tense after about 5 minutes. Write all the forms of the verb on the card so that students can check their partner's accuracy.

Example: My sister works at Macy's . [is working /worked / has worked / used to work]

2. Question Formation Review
This is an excellent drill, especially for the pesky contrast between flipping the "be" and "modal" to the front or adding a "do" helper.

Write one sentence on each card, creating a set of cards according to verb tense. Write the correct question formation under the sentence. One student reads the sentence to a partner, and the partner changes the sentence to a question.


  • "be" simple present. [Annie is a good student.] [Is Annie a good student?]
  • "be" simple past [Tomas was late this morning.] [Was Tomas late this morning?]
  • "be" future [We're going to do dictation now.] [Are we going to do dictation now?]
  • present continuous [She is drinking green tea.] [Is she drinking green tea?]
  • simple present [He likes sushi.] [Does he like sushi?]
  • simple past [They drank coffee at break.] [Did they drink coffee at break?]
  • "will" future [Maria will help you.] [Will Maria help you?]
  • modals [Athletes should wear deodorant.] [Should athletes wear deodorant?]

3. Tag Questions
Write a question on each card using all tenses plus modals. Students add a "tag question"

Example: "You're from China...?" [aren't you?]

Be sure to write the correct tag on the card.

4. Spelling

One student says the word on his or her card, and his or her partner spells it.

5. Syllables and Stress

On the front of the card, write a multisyllabic word. On the back of the card, write the word divided into syllables with the stress marked. One student shows the word to a partner who says the word out loud, clapping the syllables.

6. Vocabulary: nouns, adjectives, verbs

On each card, paste a picture (e.g., of family, school, shopping, food, clothing, banking, doctor, or housing). Beginners name the objects, colors, or actions, and higher level students create sentences of varying complexity, according to their level.


In this version, each student has two cards, of different colors: a "base" card and a random "mate," that is, a match or answer. Students use the cocktail party format, walking around trading cards until a match is found for each card; they keep the basic card and give the mate card to the person who has the matching base card. Once all cards are paired, students return to their seats and read their pairs to the class.

1. Grammar Review
One set of cards has sentences with errors; the other set describes the errors. When all the students have found their mates, they return to their seats, read their card pairs to the class, and then correct the errors.

Examples: run-on sentences or comma splices, fragments, double negatives, two subjects, incorrect word order, the wrong tense.

2. Find the Match
The possibilities of variation are endless, from the simplest matches for beginners, to almost anything you can imagine for upper levels.

Examples: picture with word, numeral with word number, color card [use large paint chips] with color name, money amounts in words and numbers, ordinals with cardinals, synonyms, antonyms, present with past tense, adjective with adverb form, question and response, reductions with formal pronunciation, regular past verbs with matching /d/, /t/, or /id/ ending.

Many of the regular Cocktail Party cards can be used as the "base" card. Just write the "match" on a different color card.

You may find these cards addicting and want to use them in every class. Fortunately, that won't be a problem because they are so adaptable.


Center for Applied Linguistics. (2010).Education for adult English language learners in the United States: Trends, research, and promising practices. Part IV: Program design and instructional practice, Washington, DC: Author.
Retrieved from

Lin, C. (2002). Personalizing language learning in large classes. The Internet TESL Journal, 111(5). Retrieved from

Judi Barr earned a BA with honors at the University of Adelaide and also holds an MA in TESOL from Portland State University. She taught English in Australia, New Zealand, and Germany before moving to the United States. She currently teaches at Portland Community College.

Nancy Winbigler has a BA from Lawrence University, an MA from the University of Oregon, and a TESOL certificate from Portland State. She has taught at Portland Community College since 2000.

Building Survival Skills in Adult English Learners

Chandra Friend,

I was inspired to write the following during a semester of teaching English to adults in Mexico. For 3 years prior, I had taught mainstream language arts to public high school students in California. Most high school teachers are well aware of the importance of students having basic academic skills, such as literacy and various kinds of self-management, which enable them to learn in a classroom context. In my classes, I often instructed students in how to manage their workload or study vocabulary, not just how to analyze literature.

My adult students here in Mexico tend to be more eager to learn than were the teenagers in my California classroom. However, many of them lack what I call "academic survival skills," which are necessary to learn and retain knowledge in a school environment. The students of greatest concern tend to be those at the basic and intermediate EFL levels. Advanced students have usually already acquired these skills through either their EFL courses or prior education.


Often, teachers fail to explicitly teach academic survival skills because they assume adult learners already have these skills, or because teachers are unaware that such skills do not develop automatically. Many educators are "naturals" when it comes to learning: It is easy for us to pay attention in class, absorb and retain information from books, and manage our time, behavior, and motivation. However, these skills are not necessarily common to all our students.

Adult English learners, in both their native countries and immigrant communities, are especially likely to need instruction in academic survival skills. Adults learning English in their native countries often do so to gain an economic advantage; however, many have had little prior formal education, and nearly one third of immigrants to the United States lack a high school diploma (Camarota, 2001). Thus, adult learners of English often come to the classroom after a long absence and often with limited educational backgrounds. Fortunately, teachers can greatly improve students' language learning and overall academic achievement by teaching the following academic survival skills.


I have identified six key, teachable skill areas that are essential to academic success. They fall into two categories: skills used primarily in the classroom and skills used primarily outside the classroom.

Within the Classroom

Within the classroom, students can benefit by learning appropriate classroom behaviors, note-taking, and self-pacing.

Appropriate classroom behaviors

Appropriate classroom behaviors are generally determined by the teacher and the dominant culture outside the classroom. Adult learners appreciate the opportunity to participate in the establishment of classroom rules. These rules often include guidelines on cell phone use, late entrance procedures, and how to unobtrusively excuse oneself to the restroom. Students should also know how and when to raise their hands, ask questions (of the teacher and peers), and listen and speak. Sometimes a lively classroom is desirable, especially for language learning. At other times, a calm, quiet environment is preferable. The teacher can provide his or her choice of learning environment by helping students understand the behaviors that are appropriate to each.


Note-taking helps to maintain students' attention and focus while reinforcing content learning. Teachers can explain and model how to annotate texts using underlining and other emphatic indicators such as notations in the margins, dog-earing, or sticky notes. Free-form notes, recorded in students' notebooks, are a greater challenge. Many teachers find it effective to provide only essential information in visual form, either by writing on the board or by using overheads or digital projections. Students can copy the given information, adding their own notes of explanation. Use of students' first language (L1) in notes should be a considered choice: forbidding it is probably futile, but neither should students use it all the time. Doodling, too, can be a kind of note-taking. Adding small drawings or visual organization to notes can help visually oriented students' comprehension. Pure, unstructured doodling can enable some students to maintain attention during less active portions of the class by giving a physical outlet to restless energy.

Self-pacing techniques

Doodling can also serve as a way for students to practice self-pacing during class time. Self-pacing techniques help students align themselves with the pace of the class, which is largely set by the teacher. Many teachers practice differentiated instruction, but it is helpful for students to know how to slow themselves down or keep up with the class. Students who are frequently bored need ways to stay engaged. Wrenching the mind back to language learning after minutes of distraction¯and doing this repeatedly during a single class period¯can be frustrating and detrimental to learning. Doodling is one way to stay focused; students can also do extra questions or exercises, recopy, start on homework, and so forth.

Students who struggle to keep up are often more visible to the teacher. Teachers can help these students by allowing them to skip a few questions on long exercises, teaching them to skim texts, or pairing them with a stronger student (while being careful to ensure that the weaker one does not simply stop trying). If a student consistently struggles, it is probably a good idea to talk with him or her privately to discover any underlying problems such as low literacy, hearing or vision impairment, hunger, or learning disability.


Outside the classroom, adult students should know and use a variety of study methods, understand how to deal with homework, and be familiar with available independent learning opportunities.

Homework management

For some student populations, notably those with heavy work or family responsibilities, doing homework is not possible. However, some teachers, including those teaching overseas, may be expected to assign homework. Young adults of college age can especially benefit from a few tips about how to develop a homework habit. First, students need to intentionally set aside time and space to do homework, perhaps by dedicating to it a specific time of day, such as right after dinner. It is important to do homework uninterrupted by television and family members as much as possible. Students who attend long classes once or twice a week can benefit from spreading their homework out over several days, rather than trying to do it all the night before class. In that way, students maximize their exposure to the target language and lessen the risk of losing their homework time to other pressing duties or temptations. If students find it hard to motivate themselves, self-rewards can be helpful; for example, review half the vocabulary and then take a walk around the block.

Teachers can also help students learn to use reference materials while outside of class. Most language learners use an L1-English dictionary; more advanced students can be encouraged to use an English-only student dictionary instead. Teachers can identify good online dictionaries and other references, being careful to require their use only if all students have Internet access. In addition, classes can discuss how and whether to study with partners or in small groups.

Study methods

When teachers say "study," many students assume that means "reread the text and your notes." However, rereading is not the only way to reinforce learning. Teachers can provide a variety of additional memorization and review strategies such as making and using flash cards; making explanatory drawings; using anagrams, decorative text, rhyming poetry, and so on to memorize vocabulary; using mnemonic visualization; using oral repetition with or without accompanying movements (such as marching or walking); recopying notes, perhaps with reorganization (such as reordering an alphabetical vocabulary list by part of speech); or explaining concepts to another person orally.

Independent learning

English language learners can benefit by extending their studies during or after their formal coursework. Here are some excellent ways, courtesy of veteran teacher Alex Case (2008): listen to podcasts or radio; sing karaoke; read a book already familiar from its L1 translation or movie version; read magazines; watch movies in English or L1 with the subtitles in English or L1; chat online or write to a penpal; or learn a famous speech or poem by heart.


Most of these six academic survival skills can be taught to the whole class at once, via lecture-discussion or model-and-practice. Self-pacing skills, however, are not as well suited to whole-class instruction because students are not always able to identify their own learning pace relative to their peers. Also, not all students demonstrate a need in this area. But it is not difficult to find a few moments during, before, or after class for a private conference with a student who needs help with self-pacing.

Appropriate classroom behaviors are best introduced early in a course. Independent learning ideas can be discussed at the very end of the course. The other skills can be taught at times of the teacher's choosing, throughout the course. However, because these skills take time to develop into habits, they should not be presented all at once. The teacher should also consider whether to use English or students' L1 as the language of instruction when teaching academic survival skills. Finally, I have found it useful to include in my skills instruction explanations of why the skills are helpful.

Adult students tend to be highly motivated. Thus, teachers will probably find their students eager to acquire these academic survival skills. And all will welcome the results: greater self-confidence and higher achievement.

Chandra Friend has been an independent EFL teacher in Mexico for the past year, and is currently seeking a permanent teaching position in California.


Camarota, S. A. (2001). Immigrants in the United States 2000: A snapshot of America's foreign-born population. Center for Immigration Studies. Retrieved from

Case, A. (2008). 70 ways to improve your English. Retrieved from

Chandra Friend taught English in the San Francisco Bay Area for 3 years before moving to Mexico, where she is now an EFL instructor and professional developer.

Doable Debate in the Second Language Classroom: A Methodology

Harry Harris, Hakuoh University,

In its less general sense, debate may be defined as a "formal, oral confrontation between two individuals, teams, or groups who present arguments to support opposing sides of a question, generally according to a set form or procedure"(Encyclopædia Britannica Online, 2009). Though this activity has its critics (e.g., Tumposky, 2004), debate can teach important skills and ideas. Students who engage in debate can improve their oral communication (Combs & Bourne, 1994; Kennedy, 2007) and academic language skills (Stewart & Pleisch, 1998), including writing (Green & Klug, 1990); develop critical thinking skills (Hernandez & Rincones, 2006; Kennedy, 2007) and the ability to present ideas with greater use of logic and reason (Kennedy, 2007); gain interest in social issues (Mochizuki, 2003) and advance disciplinary learning (Goodwin, 2003); learn to collaborate with others (Lin & Crawford, 2007); and obtain a sense of empowerment (Fallahi & Haney, 2007), in that they learn that their argumentation can influence others (Snider, n.d.).

Though it has been maintained that second language (SL) students from consensus cultures (which esteem group-supportive nonconfrontational communication rather than self-reliant direct personal expression) may have difficulty expressing their opinions (Pittman, 2004), this reticence may be situational rather than cultural (Cheng, 2000). This suggests that, with careful guidance and an atmosphere encouraging open exchange of opinion, debate should be accessible to most students. To expand on this at least in the Asian context, much as the West has its own Socratic traditions, there are South and East Asia debating traditions (Branham, 1991), no doubt supported by the group efforts necessary for debate engagement (Hammond, 2007). In my Japan context, for example, with, for many, its quintessentially reticent culture, university students have participated in organized English debates since 1950 (Yasui, 2010) and junior high and high school students have participated in Japanese debates since 1996 (Zenkoku Kyoshitsu Debeto Renmei, 2004).

Also, for those instructors whose pedagogical philosophy is to add variety and more content to the classroom, even lower level SL students, with careful guidance and an encouraging atmosphere, should be able to do basic, controlled debate, engaging in initial levels of sharing and questioning ideas about different topics. Though SL teachers will ultimately have to reach their own conclusions about when to introduce this activity, reasonable expectations and greater levels of scaffolding can make debate possible for these learners. Simplified debate terminology and propositions can be used, essential vocabulary can be pretaught, and judging criteria can be adjusted to student needs. As well, students can be required to type out their arguments and even refutations (see Table 4), read these to their opponents, and submit them to the teacher immediately after debates for accountability purposes. I'd like to encourage teachers to realize that debate is not necessarily only for higher level SL students. The introduction of debate can provide even lower level SL students with a learning experience of some value.

Thus, assuming that most SL learners can learn to debate and that this activity can be an important educational engagement for them, with meaningful results from their collaborative efforts, I present a methodology for conducting informal debates in 90-minute SL classrooms (see Whitman, 2000, for debate format comparisons), with encouragement and a caveat for teachers to adapt explanations and procedures to their own goals and student needs.


When introducing debate to a class, teachers should first inform students that they will engage in a collaborative effort to examine and learn about issues that can be important in their lives and that they may be asked to present ideas and argue points with which they personally disagree. It can then be explained that, for debate, they will take a position with respect to a proposition and prepare pertinent reasons, or arguments, in support of (pro) or disagreement with (con) it and that they should take notes when listening to their opponents' arguments for later reference when preparing counterarguments, or refutations, and even counterrefutations, or rebuttals. (See McGinnis, 1954, for further explanation of this terminology. For younger, lower level students, I talk about reasons and attacks, introducing more formal terminology later. Whatever terminology is introduced should be explained clearly and used consistently.)

When students seem to have understood the above, the teacher can elicit debate topics, which will be worked into propositions. In my experience, students will often offer one-word responses such as books. Write these on the board and explain that debate propositions should be framed as something to defend or oppose and should be clear and simple without negatives (Branham, 1991) and that there are three basic types: value, such asSummer is better than winter; policy, such as The school year should be lengthened by one month; and fact, such as Green tea is good for you (Goodnight, 1993). At this point, the teacher could provide a proposition based on one of these topics. For example, in place of books, the teacher might offer Reading novels is better than watching movies. Then, have students work in groups to provide propositions for other elicited topics. (For this first debate, value propositions are suggested because other types may require more preparation.)

After students have generated suitable propositions, these can be written on the blackboard and a vote taken to select one for debate. (Alternatively, the teacher can provide one. My students often first do the simple Cats make better pets than dogs.) The teacher then organizes the students into groups of five, each with one judge and two two-member teams who will argue the pro and con positions. Inform the groups that their judges will evaluate the teams and determine a winner according to judging criteria, as in Table 1. Then, assign the teams pro and con roles. (Teacher role selection encourages students to see that debate is about arguing and defending a point of view, not necessarily one's beliefs.)

Next, explain the criteria, simplifying the content according to teacher aims and class needs. For this first debate, for example, consider restricting the criteria to body language, voice, and L1 avoidance because these are easy to introduce and monitor. (The teacher can walk around during the debate encouraging students to sit up and make eye contact, speak audibly, and use L2.) When students have more debate experience and better SL skills, consider introducing other criteria.

Table 1. Judging Criteria (adapted from Harris, 2006, p. 66)


Information is presented clearly and logically with transitions; e.g., first, second, however, but


"Difficult" words are defined or explained.



Team ideas are consistent and relevant. Team members do not contradict each other.

Body Language

Body language is debate appropriate; e.g., team members sit up straight, use gestures, and have good eye contact.


Debaters speak clearly and audibly, appropriate to debate.

Examples, Statistics,


Clear and reputable support is provided, showing preparation and serious thought. Sources are acknowledged.


Debaters use opponent information to point out contradictions, inconsistencies, and irrelevancies.

SL Use

Students make a serious effort to use SL.

The instructor then gives the teams time to prepare their argument. One effective way to do this, especially with smaller classes, is to move the pro and con teams of all groups to separate parts of the room and allow them to work together, returning to their original groups when prepared. While these larger "fishbowl" groups (Kennedy, 2007, p. 186) work on arguments, the instructor should take the group judges aside to explain a score sheet, as in Table 2, and re-explain the judging criteria. If time remains, have these students, as a group, prepare their own pro and con arguments for the proposition in anticipation of some of the ideas they may hear.

Table 2. Score Sheet (adapted from Harris, 2006, p. 67)














Body Language

Body Language



Examples, etc.

Examples, etc.







When students are ready and have returned to their original groups, go over a schedule, as in Table 3.

Table 3. (adapted from Harris, 2006, p. 68)



1st affirmative argument, 1½ min.

1st negative argument, 1½ min.

2nd affirmative argument, 1½ min.

2nd negative argument, 1½ min.

3rd affirmative argument, 1½ min.

3rd negative argument, 1½ min.

5-minute break to prepare questions

3-minute question period

3-minute question period

15-minute break to prepare refutations

Refutation of Con's 1st argument, 1½ min.

Refutation of Pro's 1st argument, 1½ min.

Refutation of Con's 2nd argument, 1½ min.

Refutation of Pro's 2nd argument, 1½ min.

Refutation of Con's 3rd argument, 1½ min.

Refutation of Pro's 3rd argument, 1½ min.

2-minute break to prepare final appeal to judge

Final appeal 1½ min.

Final appeal 1½ min.

Then explain the following (adapted from Harris, 2006):

  • Team members take turns during the debate and refer to themselves collectively as we, not I, to show that they are expressing team ideas.
  • The debate will be timed.
  • When a team states its arguments, the opponent team listens and takes notes. This is not the time for discussion or refutation. If a team does not understand another team's arguments, members should ask that team to repeat them slowly.
  • During the 5-minute question-preparation break, teams work separately, with their notes, preparing questions they will ask the opponent team later (questions may call for restatements, explanations, definitions, and examples). (Before the debate, teachers may want to introduce formulaic questions students can use for this purpose.)
  • During the 3-minute question periods, students ask the opponent team questions. Remind students to do their best to answer the questions, and tell question askers to move on to other questions if the opponent team cannot answer.
  • During the 15-minute refutation-preparation break, group teams will work separately (or do "fishbowl" work) to prepare refutations based on their own ideas and information that they received during the question period.
  • During the 1½-minute refutation periods, opponent teams listen and take notes. Instructors should remind students that new arguments cannot be presented at this time.
  • During the 2-minute break for final-appeal preparation, teams review their notes and prepare final statements they will make to the judges. These statements will provide teams with a final opportunity to attempt to persuade the judge they have done better at argumentation, defense, and refutation than their opponents did.
  • The final appeal is the last chance for teams to present their cases to the judge. They should point out their strengths and their opponents' weaknesses.

When the above has been explained, conduct the debate. The teacher should walk around the classroom, monitoring for problems and encouraging students. Afterward, have the judges determine winning teams. The judges should stand up and report the winners to the whole class, giving reasons for selections.


With subsequent debates, students should be expected to prepare because this will have an effect on learning and attitude (Cotton, 1988). To ensure they do this, have students type their arguments and even refutations for immediate postdebate submission, as in Table 4. (Adapt homework requirements to student needs and ability. I find it especially helpful to have lower level students type out arguments and refutations because this in-hand prepared information can facilitate the communication process.) Especially for lower level classes, the teacher may want to provide ahead of time vocabulary related to future debate propositions and even readings if these can be found or prepared. Also helpful is predebate discussion or at least a teacher introduction of a proposition in an earlier class. Perhaps a short lecture can be made on the topic, introducing ideas and vocabulary. As well, as has been suggested above, expressions that students may need during the debate should be gradually introduced. For example, have students start their refutations with In your first argument, you said X (summarizing the argument) and However, we disagree because . . . (refuting the argument). Provide these expressions as you find the need. If you continue debate activities in later semesters with other classes, you will find yourself with a robust list of these.

Table 4. Homework Assignment



Proposition: Reading novels is better than watching movies.



1. You have to use your own imagination. That develops the mind.

2. The enjoyment with novels usually lasts longer. You get more for your money.

3. You can read novels anywhere. You don't have to be in a special place.

1. Making movies requires the talent of many people. Their work is interesting.

2. In our busy lives, movies require less time than novels. That's convenient.

3. Movies have sound, including music. The music can move us emotionally.

Refutations of CON Arguments

Refutations of PRO Arguments

1. However, it is also interesting to see the talent of one person in a novel.

2. However, convenience is not necessarily good. We should hurry less and enjoy our lives more.

3. However, just sound is noise. Also, the words and ideas in novels can move us emotionally.

1. However, learning about other people's imagination develops it, too.

2. However, because they take less time, you can see more movies.

3. However, you can see movies anywhere with portable DVD players.

Though value propositions have been suggested for the initial debate, at some point teachers may want to move to policy and fact propositions. This will require research on the part of the students, and teachers should be prepared to offer some guidance as to library and Internet sources, especially for students with weaker academic or computer skills. Of course, often you will find that students help each other. Also, do not discourage students from using L1 resources, as debate is a content as well as a skill activity (Goodwin, 2003).


Debate conducted in the SL classroom can be a highly rewarding activity, helping students improve their language skills while providing them with more knowledge about various issues and a context for working on social skills. Though organizing a methodology for debate may seem daunting, most learners can engage in this activity if given adequate guidance. In this article I have provided an outline of debate as I have conducted it with various degrees of success in my SL classrooms. Teachers are encouraged to adapt this to their own circumstances and goals so that their students may share the rewards that this potentially productive activity can provide.


Branham, R. J. (1991). Debate and critical analysis: The harmony of conflict. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum .

Cheng, X. (2000). Asian students' reticence revisited. System, 28(3), 435-446.

Combs, H. W., & Bourne, S. G. (1994). The Renaissance of educational debate: Results of a five-year study of the use of debate in business education.Electronic Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 5(1), 57-67. Retrieved from

Cotton, K. (1988). Monitoring student learning in the classroom. School improvement research series close-up #4. Northwest Regional Educational Lab., Portland, OR. Assessment and Evaluation Program. Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ED): Washington, DC. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. 298085)

Encyclopædia Britannica Online . (2009). Debate. Retrieved from http://

Fallahi, C. R., & Haney, J. D. (2007). Using debate in helping students discuss controversial topics. Journal of College Teaching and Learning, 4(19), 83-88.

Goodnight, L. (1993). Getting started in debate (2nd ed.). Lincolnwood, IL: National Textbook Company.

Goodwin, J. (2003). Students' perspectives on debate exercises in content area classes. Communication Education, 52(2), 157-163.

Green, C. S., III, & Klug, H. G. (1990). Teaching critical thinking and writing skills through debate: An experimental evaluation. Teaching Sociology, 18, 462-471.

Hammond, C. (2007). Culturally responsive teaching in the Japanese classroom: A comparative analysis of cultural teaching and learning styles in Japan and the United States. Journal of the Faculty of Economics, KGU, 17, 41-50.

Harris, H. (2006). English debate in the Japanese classroom: An introductory outline. The Hakuoh University Journal, 21(1), 47-73.

Hernandez, J., & Rincones, R. (2006). Debating in marketing classes in the ITESM. Retrieved from

Kennedy, R. (2007). In-class debates: Fertile ground for active learning and cultivation of critical thinking and oral communication skills.International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 19(2), 183-190. Retrieved from

Lin, S., & Crawford, S. Y. (2007). An online debate series for first-year pharmacy students.American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 71(1), 1-8. Retrieved from ajpe12.pdf

McGinnis, R. Y. (1954). Refutation. In D. Potter (Ed.), Argumentation and debate: Principles and practice (pp. 125-167). New York, NY: The Dryden Press.

Mochizuki, K. (2003). Debeto no susume [An encouragement for debate]. Tokyo: Seibundo Press.

Pittman, W. (2004). Introducing debate and Internet research in English communication classes. Nagasaki University Journal of Environmental Studies, 6(2), 71-76.

Snider, A. C. (n.d.). The code of the debater: Introduction to the way of reason. Retrieved April 29, 2010, from

Stewart, T., & Pleisch, G. (1998). Developing academic language skills and fluency through debate. The Language Teacher, 22(10), 27-32.

Tumposky, N. (2004). The debate debate. Clearing House, 78(2), 52-55.

Whitman, G. (2000). Debate. from

Yasui, S. (2010). Nihon no debeto no katsudo no gaikyo [An overview of Japanese debate activities]. Retrieved from

Zenkoku Kyoshitsu Debeto Renmei [National Association of Debate in Education]. (2004). Retrieved from

Harry Harris has taught ESL/EFL and Spanish in South America, Asia, and the United States. Presently, he is a faculty member at Hakuoh University, Japan, teaching and working with curriculum development.

Resources of Note: "PowerPoint Games for Reinforcement and Fun"

Laurie Martin,

California's Outreach and Technical Assistance Network (OTAN) Web site ( is not to be missed. Though developed for the adult education community in California, the majority of resources on this Web site are applicable to non-Californians. Kristi Reyes writes articles for the site, which are published at the beginning of every month except July and August. Her latest article, "PowerPoint Games for Reinforcement and Fun"(; note: free registration is required), focuses on using PowerPoint for lively review and practice games. The article includes links to games that teachers have already created in the style of Jeopardy and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. In addition, Kristi provides links to Web sites with downloadable templates for creating new games. Teachers who do not have technology available to use in their classroom should find many of the games and ideas easily adaptable to a paper or blackboard format. Note that though the OTAN Web site is free, users are required to register. The site's registration policies ensure that you will not receive e-mails unless you request to be notified on particular topics.

Announcements A New Look for the Newsletter

Laurie Martin,

With a great deal of assistance from past editor Susan Finn Miller, I am gradually learning the process of assembling and editing the AEIS newsletter. Under Susan's skilled direction, the AEIS newsletter has been a high-quality, professional publication, in which important information has been shared with the field. With the next edition of the newsletter, I will fly solo as the new editor (look Ma, no hands!), and the airplane will look a little different.

The newsletter of the past has been like a jumbo jet, an impressive yet massive vehicle that needed a tremendous amount of energy to get off the ground. Once in the air, so to speak, it demanded a fair amount of time to read through. The newsletter of the future will be more like a Learjet-small, streamlined, and maneuverable.

My plan is to produce a newsletter quarterly. The format will be similar to that of past editions, but the newsletter will be shorter. Each edition will feature no more than three longer articles written by members of the field, a small number of announcements, and a couple of brief resource reviews. I hope that this slimmer incarnation will continue to serve the interest section membership, and I welcome your contributions of articles, reviews, and announcements, as well as your ideas and feedback.

Kirsten Schaetzel Receives Service Award

Sally Harris (on the right), from the TESOL Interest Section Leadership Council, visited the AEIS business meeting at the Boston convention to present Kirsten Schaetzel, who served as this year's AEIS chair, with a certificate for her years of service and leadership in the AEIS.

Convention Proposals Members of the AEIS submitted 145 proposals for next year’s convention in New Orleans, and 37 members will be reviewing them.
NIFL Closing The National Institute for Literacy (NIFL) will close its operations on September 30, 2010. A new Web site will open with a Literacy Information and Communication System (LINCS) banner on September 27, 2010. All discussion lists will continue and there will still be access to resources through the LINCS system. Visit the current Web site,, for updates.