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Helping ESL Students Synthesize Research and Speaking Skills

At University of Bridgeport’s English Language Institute (ELI), our instructors engage students in a series of formal research-driven academic debates. ESL students often lack experience and confidence when making academic and professional presentations to faculty and professionals, and this can work to their detriment during their career development. Our debates give them the chance to improve their language skills in a fun and interesting way. The themes always cover non-political, unresolved topics and provide students the opportunity to further develop their research, critical thinking, and teambuilding skills.

ELI Senior Instructor Karen Howling has been leading debates with ELI students for more than 15 years. According to Howling, “These academic debates give our students the opportunity to showcase their knowledge and speaking skills.” She usually requires her students to dress in business attire to make the activity appear more professional and high stakes. She commented that she has witnessed seemingly shy and reticent students stand up to the challenge and make powerful presentations on debate day. Students usually comment that they were nervous initially but developed a strong sense of self-confidence by the end.

Douglas House, a new addition to the ELI faculty, co-coordinated two debates for ELI students during the fall 2021 semester. House and Howling were both impressed with the performance of their class as the students politely argued their well-researched pros and cons of vegetarianism. Later in the semester, the same teams debated the advantages and disadvantages of social media.

Debate has become an integral part of the Advanced Listening/Speaking curriculum and the culmination of the speaking and presentation skills gained during the academic semester. There are no so-called winners or losers in ELI debates; they are essentially an opportunity for students to develop a plan, research their topic and explain it well when under pressure.

Steven Rashba, ARM, is the Director of Modern Languages and the English Language Institute and currently teaches Advanced ELI 140 (Research Writing for ESL Students). The English Language Institute welcomes international students with Intermediate and Advanced English language proficiency.