Sometimes the problem isn't how to say something in English, but, rather, what to say. For this reason, it's extremely important to scaffold activities properly.
Sometimes students don't have ideas because:
- they don't have a background in thinking at all (if they have been in an education system where all the learning was by rote, for example)
- the topic isn't relevant to them and they have no knowledge of it
- It might/could be ...
- I guess ...
- It's likely/unlikely
- I doubt it's ... because ...
- I think ...
- I'm pretty sure ...
- I'm not sure but ...
We can use this version of Bloom's Taxonomy to ask the right questions and help our students to be better thinkers:
Next, give students a list of points and ask them whether or not they are relevant to the question under discussion:
Next, get the students to sort the points into pros and cons. Give half the class the pros and the other half the cons and ask them to rank them in order of importance. Get them to do this individually first, then with a partner, then with a small group, and so on up to half the class. After doing this, students will be better able to discuss the question and better able to come up with their own ideas when the next discussion question comes along.
This is a great website for finding out about debates and discussions. It lists points for and points against for discussion topics and is a really useful resource for teachers to help us prepare for in-class debates.
It's extremely important to give our students guidelines. For example:
How has our relationship with the environment changed?
Give at least five examples.
We need to push our students and encourage collaboration. For example:
What do you consider the main causes of disease?
Work in pairs and consider economics, lifestyle, emotional well-being, as well as medical reasons. Think of at least two examples of each.
Good scaffolding is the means by which we support our students and guide them in the right direction.
What's the question?
Give students five answers to the same discussion question and ask them to come up with the question. For example, these answers:
should lead to the question:
What would the world be like without energy?
This activity encourages different ways of thinking by asking students to consider things from different perspectives. We do this with role-plays in the classroom and we can do the same thing with discussions. Give the students a question. For example:
How has social networking changed the lives of young people today?
Then give each student a 'cap' - teenager, parent, teacher, employer, government think tank member - and ask them to debate the question from their character's point of view. Invariably, the conversation will last much longer than it would otherwise have done.
Five minute Guardian debates
These are five-minute videos, created by The Guardian newspaper in the UK and made available on You Tube, which can be used as the basis for in-class discussions for B2 level students and above.
Problem solving: reverse brainstorming
Here, we take a problem and reverse it. By looking at an issue from the other direction, we can often see it more clearly and so generate more ideas. For example, if the original question is:
How do you think the problem of over-consumption can be addressed?
What do you think the causes of over-consumption are?
This is a good way to push students to think harder about the solutions they propose - what would the impact/results be?
In the example above, for instance, the consequences of an education campaign might be a) that it's expensive and b) that it only reaches young people.
Mindmeister.com is a good website for creating all kinds of mind maps.
We're constantly making assumptions and sometimes these are wrong. Give students a list of generally held truths and ask them to prove them to be true or false. They have to go away and research, leading to a whole new discussion on where to find good sources (digital literacy).
In the examples above, only 3 and 5 can be proved to be true, and then only in a limited way. These are great discussion topics!
Give students some pictures and ask them what the link is between them. For example, here there could be a connection in each column: