Speaking activity – Debating about the environment

(Note: before you start reading the post, I think it’s important to tell you that one of the videos I used in the activity does contain some ‘inappropriate’ language to some audiences, and I recommend you use it only with adults. If you feel your learners shouldn’t be exposed to this kind of language, you may either choose a different video, use only the first video and adapt the activity, or simply dismiss the activity out of hand.)

I’ve been giving a lot of thought about what to write as the 20th post. Truth be told, I came to the conclusion that even though it might mean something to me as a personal achievement (I didn’t think I’d come this far and actually miss posting here), it’s likely to come across as yet another post that people may or may not enjoy. As I’m somehow involved with the teacher training programme and recruitment process at the moment, I’ve been sort of away, but something came to mind while listening to the radio and I decided to post an activity here so that not only can I share it with you, but I can also come back to it and remember it later – even though there (still) are no handouts or anything like that to go with it. It’s basically a lesson on the environment with two videos for students to take notes while watching, and sides in a discussion. I’d use it with upper-intermediate or advanced learners (B2+ according to CEF). Here it goes:

1. Start the class by asking them what they know about COPE 15, the Kyoto protocol and how they feel about all the heated discussion on climate change currently on display. Help them with vocabulary they might not be familiar with but focus on what they produce instead of telling them what you want them to learn – you may always contribute a word or two at a later stage.

2. Tell them they’re going to watch two videos which have opposing views on the matter, and they’re supposed to take notes while they watch the videos. The first video is a bit long (about 21 minutes), so it’d be nice if you stopped after every segment to ask some comprehension questions and let them share their notes. The second video lasts about 8 minutes, but as it’s a stand up comedy show by George Carlin, it’d also be nice if you stopped once or twice to let them share their notes. It’d also be a good idea to pre-teach any difficult vocabulary.

(N.B.: depending on the cultural background of your students, or their sense of humour, the second video might be offensive. It is also important to know that George Carlin does make use of some swear words in his speech. However, who’s better to judge how our students are going to respond to something than the teacher himself? Use it at your own discretion.)

3. Put students in two groups and tell them they’re going to take sides – one group believes there is a serious threat to the environment while the other believes this is just propaganda. Allow them a couple of minutes with their groups to organise their ideas.

4. Pair them up, with one student from each group and tell them they are to try to persuade the other person of what they believe in. Before they start discussing, it’s a nice idea to recycle with them some language for agreeing, disagreeing, expressing their opinions, giving examples and explaining.

Here are the two videos:

Video 1 – The story of stuff

Video 2 – George Carlin on Global Warming

If you liked it, go ahead and use it! If you didn’t like it, sorry for wasting your time reading the activity. If you have any contribution, please share! 🙂

4 thoughts on “Speaking activity – Debating about the environment

  1. I do debate lessons like this all the time with my upper levels. I have to say that the videos are a bit too long. 21 and 8 minutes respectively is a lot although I know the difficulty in finding appropriate length videos with desired content.

    I love this lesson idea. In general, what I do is find a 5 minute video clip on a debate issue. We use it as a listening lesson and I build necessary language and ideas. The 2nd hour we do a reading from the opposite point of view. Again, this helps build the necessary language and feed students ideas, especially as they may not be familiar with the debate. Of course, after both listening and reading lessons we do some discussion or speaking activity.

    Finally I’ll set up the debate. This can be in the form of a full class discussion or small groups. Some times I’ll have them do presentations on their point of view instead. There’s lots of options for this, but debate lessons are a great way to work in multiple skills lessons around a similar theme and still keep it interesting as the information is always new. At the same time, you are recycling a lot of language throughout the lesson. Good stuff.

    1. Hi Nick,

      I agree with you on the length of the videos, especially the first one. However, they’re do stir some nice discussions in class. If I’ve got more than 1:30 for a class, I think it’s manageable. Another option would be to ask students to watch the videos at home – if there’s a class blog or something like that, students may even post some comments online.

      I like the idea of integrating a video anda reading passage with opposing views on the matter, and I agree with all the things you mentioned – it’s good scaffolding for learners as well. As long as we can find the right material, it’s always a great lesson! The presentation idea sounds nice, but it might also be fairly time-consuming, don’t you agree? How long do you usually give each student for their presentation? I think it depends on class size, but overall, 5 – 10 minutes per student is usually enough in my view.

      Thanks for your comments! 🙂

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