Classroom Activities For The Language Of Opinions
Much more intensive language of agreeing and disagreeing etc than just the usual discussion questions.
Students are often much worse at asking for opinions than giving them. To give intensive practice of this, get them to ask their partner opinion questions on any topic until they successfully find something that their partner can’t come up with any opinion on.
One way of avoiding students just saying “I agree” is to practise the common technique of adding to what their partner says with expressions like “Not only that but…” and “You forgot to mention…” Tell students they must agree with everything their partner says and add something each time until one of them gives up.
Show your comprehension
Divide the language you want to present into two categories, e.g. agreeing/disagreeing, strong/weak, or informal/formal. Give each student two small cards representing the categories you have chosen, e.g. one saying “Agreeing” and one with “Disagreeing” written on it, and ask them to raise the relevant card depending on the phrase they hear. Make sure that some are tricky to guess, e.g. agreeing with the negative phrase “I couldn’t agree with you more.” Students can then label the same phrases on a worksheet and test each other in pairs.
Students often seem to assume that all discussion should be a kind of debate, whereas in real-life business meetings etc they will need to move together in some way sooner or later. Doing this also obviously leads to more of a range of language, e.g. moving from strong opinions to weak opinions during the discussion. Students can therefore be told to start with opposite views but reach agreement (of some kind) in a fixed time period such as five minutes, perhaps with the teacher shouting out the number of minutes left to help them control their discussion. After that time is up, groups that haven’t found a middle way should share their topics for the whole class to suggest compromises.
A more intensive and challenging way of practising changing position during a discussion is to ask them to switch from Student A agreeing with the proposition and Student B disagreeing, to Student A disagreeing and Student B agreeing – asking them to make the transition as natural as possible.
Do you really think that?
Students take a card that says “Give your own opinion” or “Give the opposite of your opinion”, then, when they have finished, their partner guesses which card they got.
Alternatives to formal debates
Although the format and language of a formal debate barely exists outside parliament (and often not even there), it is good to have students speak in front of the whole class sometimes. The most similar to a formal debate is to ask a pair of students to prepare their arguments for and against something and have their debate in front of the class, e.g. by sitting everyone in a circle with pairs of students sat opposite each other. After a fixed number of minutes or turns, the students listening should join in with questions or their own views.
A rather different way of getting the whole class involved in a debate is to pass it around the class. Two people are told which (opposite) positions to take and argue for a little while. At some point (decided by the teacher, by the student speaking or the student who will take over) a different person takes over from one of those two people, hopefully using new arguments instead of repeating what has already been said. This repeats until the whole class has spoken or the debate draws to a halt, e.g. because one side has given up.
I didn’t realise you felt that strongly about it
One student gives their opinion on something and secretly writes down a number between minus five (very strongly disagree) and plus five (very strongly agree) on their piece of paper, with zero being completely on the fence. That person’s partner also writes down a number representing how strong they think the views that they have just heard are. They compare their numbers and discuss why the strength of the views didn’t come across if they aren’t the same.
Guess the opinion
Students are given a list of things to give opinions about, e.g. approaches to language learning such as delaying speaking in order to impose a “silent period”. They choose one without telling their partner which, and their partner must guess which one they are speaking about. They can then discuss those views.
Alex Case is the author of TEFLtastic blog.