Materials and Classroom Activities to Be Used in Academic Discussion Class

Introduction

Rationale 1: Materials

The materials that might be useful for the selected pre-sessional academic English course are the following:

  • Textbooks and journal articles;
  • Boards;
  • Computers and the Internet

Textbooks and Journal Articles

These materials are the most common and old-fashioned. However, they have always been crucial in any learning process and teaching academic discussion is no exception to this. With the help of textbooks, teachers can present the necessary learning materials to students. Articles can be used to introduce points of argument. Also, students can be requested to search for evidence to support their points of view in scholarly articles. Therefore, textbooks and articles are very useful tools in achieving lesson objectives. By using these materials, students will enhance their pre-university preparation that is considered as a decisive factor in future students’ options for education (Afful 2007).

These particular materials are suitable for the selected student group. Learners at the intermediate level have sufficient reading skills, as well as research skills, to perform research using scholarly journals. When working with a group of 8-12 students, it is possible to use textbooks because the number of copies needed is not large, and every learner can be provided with the necessary materials. Some scholars remark that it may be difficult for a teacher to identify whether students have completed the course successfully or not (Banerjee & Wall 2006). Using textbooks and journal articles can make the assessment process easier by providing the teacher with a variety of ways that they can use to evaluate the learners’ knowledge and skills.

Finally, the use of journal articles and textbooks is beneficial for satisfying students’ present and future academic needs. Their current needs are learning the basics of discussion skills, teamwork, and problem-solving. Research pertains to the last of the requirements mentioned in the list of course objectives. When looking for relevant data in journal articles, learners can acquire the skills of problem-solving. Students will learn how to support and prove their point of view and present it to their opponents during a discussion. Also, textbooks provide ample opportunities for teamwork, as well as promote critical thinking. The teacher can give feedback on the use of these materials in the course of the lesson, as well as at the end of it.

Boards (Blackboard, Whiteboard, Bulletin Board)

Using boards during class discussions is a highly productive method of engaging learners and keeping them focused on the topic and key issues. A variety of boards can be used, but their function is predominantly the same ─ to emphasise the key terms and, if necessary, classify them. The more common types, the blackboard and whiteboard, are used to write down learning material. The bulletin board is aimed at collecting facts, illustrations, article pieces, and other aspects related to the problem that is being discussed during the class.

Boards are can be helpful in reaching lesson objectives. Since the major purpose of the class is teaching students discussion skills, problem-solving, and teamwork, the use of boards can help the teacher to develop these abilities in their students. For instance, if the teacher asks learners to prepare their discussion points for a bulletin board, it will improve their team-building skills, as well as enhance their research abilities. Also, there may be assignments requiring students to add, contradict, or argue something written on the board. In such cases, discussion skills will also be cultivated.

Boards are suitable for this group of learners. Students at the intermediate level are good at taking notes, synthesising material, and drawing conclusions from the evidence available to them. Therefore, this group of learners will benefit from using boards as one of the learning materials during the course. Also, boards are suitable because they are common in any classroom. Bulletin boards do not even require much special equipment, as they can be created out of printed materials, and teachers or students can find the necessary items easily.

These materials are related to students’ current and future academic needs because they help to focus the learner on the most important information, as well as develop the synthesising and analytical skills that are so crucial for mastering discussion skills. The teacher can evaluate students’ abilities to use the boards at the end of the lesson. Teachers can single out the most active users of the board and praise the activity or preparation of particular students.

Computers and the Internet

The third type of materials that can be employed in a discussion class is computers and the Internet. These resources occupy a significant place in modern day learning. As Kalelioğlu and Gülbahar (2014) remark, even very young learners know the basics of programming and can use computer technologies when preparing for their lessons. The Internet can be employed not only for research but also for sharing points and discussing them. For instance, the teacher can arrange a virtual discussion board where every student will be able to express their opinions and defend their viewpoints.

These resources can help achieve the lesson objectives since they promote students’ independent work, as well as group efforts, develop a variety of skills, and promote public speaking abilities. They are suitable because learners at this level are tech-savvy and can easily participate in online discussions, as well as gather data online. Also, as Smart and Featheringham (2006) remark, small group activities can bring positive learning outcomes. Thus, a group of 8-12 students can benefit from participating in online discussion forums. Computers and the Internet are compatible with students’ academic needs since these materials can promote communication and discussion abilities. The teacher can give feedback on students’ use of these resources online.

Rationale 2: Classroom Activities

There is a variety of activities that might be employed in a pre-sessional academic English class. The most relevant of these are the following:

  • Clines (British Council 2015);
  • Philosophical chairs (Gonzales 2015);
  • Playing a card game (Reese & Wells 2007);
  • Peer workshops and projects (Bollinger n.d.; Byrd 2008; Eisenchlas & Trevaskes 2007; Leading an interactive discussion: elective seminar n.d.; Nasir 2018; Oradee 2012; Poonpon 2011).

Clines

With the help of clines, students can feel more confident about ordering data on a larger scale (British Council 2015). Clines can have several options, the extreme ones being “strongly agree” and “strongly disagree.” This activity helps to achieve the lesson objectives because students develop discussion skills when expressing their agreement or disagreement with a particular issue. Also, teamwork skills are enhanced since it is possible to apply clines in pairs or groups. The activity is suitable for the selected student group because intermediate students can express their opinions rather well, and will benefit from arguing for and against one another. Employing clines is also suitable because the size of the group is 8-12 students, which is perfect for this activity.

Clines are related to students’ academic needs because this approach helps learners to build arguments based on their attitude to the issues discussed. Also, the activity will promote problem-solving skills of the students. Another asset of clines is that they are used in the classroom as opposed to the virtual learning environment. As Wickersham and Dooley (2006) note, online discussions require much preparation and responsibility on the part of learners. Thus, discussing problematic questions in class with the help of clines is easier and will enhance students’ achievements. The most suitable way of giving feedback will be orally. The teacher may explain students’ strong and weak points at the end of the lesson.

Philosophical Chairs

One of the most frequently employed activities used in discussion classes is the philosophical chair (Gonzales 2015). This approach presupposes reading out loud a statement that has two possible answers – “agree” or “disagree.” Thus, this activity has a similarity with clines. However, when using the philosophical chair activity, the class will be eventually divided into two groups rather than have various opinions. Depending on how students feel about the statement, they will pick one side of the classroom (Gonzales 2015). Further, these two groups defend their positions in turn. The activity will help to reach the lesson objectives because it develops teamwork, problem-solving, and discussion skills. By using this method, students will be able to defend not only their own opinions but also the views of the whole group to which they belong.

The philosophical chair activity is highly suitable for groups of 8-12 students. These groups are small enough for each learner to be able to express his or her opinion. Also, the activity is suitable because it allows a diversity of options each time it is employed. Students will be grouped differently in each lesson, depending on what side of the arguments they select. The activity is closely connected with students’ academic needs since it will help them to defend their arguments, work in teams with other people, and express their opinions in a clear way. The feedback can be given by the teacher in an oral form. At the end of the discussion, the teacher can point out which of the teams built their arguments better and single out the students in the winning team that helped their peers gain victory.

Playing a Card Game

The creators of this activity emphasise the significance of discussion skills for students who want to enter university (Reese & Wells 2007). At the same time, scholars note that the learning process may present difficulties. Thus, Reese and Wells (2007) suggest the conversation card game as a beneficial activity for promoting discussion skills. The exercise will help to reach the lesson objectives since it teaches students various conversation moves, both as participants and leaders. Therefore, such goals as teamwork and discussion skills will be achieved.

The activity is suitable for small groups of learners. It will be easy to control the game in a group of 8-12 students. This approach will teach learners to contradict others, defend their own point of view, and express opinions. Thus, the activity is related to students’ present and future academic needs. With the help of a card game, learners will receive valuable knowledge of signal phrases used in discussions. In the future, they will enhance their vocabulary and will be able to express their thoughts in a more thorough way. The teacher’s feedback will be oral, and it will be given at the end of the activity.

Peer Workshops and Projects

The fourth of the chosen activities is the most frequently encountered in scholarly and professional literature. It is noted that peer projects promote students’ skills to a great extent (Leading an interactive discussion: elective seminar n.d.; Nasir 2018). Working in pairs or small groups helps learners to develop their team-building skills. This activity will promote the achievement of the lesson objectives due to offering learners a possibility to share responsibilities (Bollinger n.d.; Byrd 2008). Moreover, defending a point of view in a project teaches students to prepare beforehand, collect materials, and analyse data.

The activity is particularly suitable for the selected group of learners because at the intermediate level students know how to use various tools and techniques. Also, at this age, learners do not feel uncomfortable communicating with peers when preparing the project. Peer projects are related to students’ academic needs since they enable greater communication and thorough investigation, both of which are highly valuable when it comes to presenting the project and defending their opinions during class discussions (Eisenchlas & Trevaskes 2007). Teachers can give feedback both in oral and written form, depending on the way students pass their projects. If the work is posted online, feedback can be offered online as well.

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