Oracy ideas

Short activities and exercises

Debates and other forms of Speaking & Listening activities don’t have to take ages to prepare, or a whole lesson to take place. You can use quick activities like hat debates and rebuttal tennis as effective starter activities or small segments of other lessons. Or use them as a warm-up to get everyone “in the zone” before a debate lesson.

Hat debates

A hat debate involves relatively simple motions being pulled out of a hat. Often they take place with just one speaker for and one speaker against the topic. Participants in the debate have a minimal (or even no) time to prepare, so it’s great practice for thinking on your feet. Here are some appropriate motions for a hat debate:

  • We shouldn’t have to wear school uniform
  • Girls and boys should go to the same schools
  • You should be allowed your mobile phone in school
  • SATs should be abolished
  • PE should not be compulsory in schools
  • It’s a good thing that London won the bid for the Olympic games
  • Violent video games should be banned
  • Policemen should carry guns
  • Books are better than television
  • It’s better to live in the countryside than in a city
  • It’s a waste of time to learn foreign languages
  • It would be a good thing to be famous
  • Footballers earn too much money
  • English is the best subject at school

Rebuttal tennis

Rebuttal is the name given to points in a debate where participants disagree with what has been said by their opponents. You can practice this skill by holding short bouts of “rebuttal tennis”. Pairs of students sit opposite each other; one student makes a statement for, and the other immediately disagrees. Then the first student disagrees back … who can keep going the longest?

Here are some light-hearted topics for fun games of rebuttal tennis.

  • Valentines day should be abolished
  • We should have a national Harry Potter Day
  • Eastenders is the best soap opera
  • We should have video games as a subject in school
  • Justin Timberlake is a good role model for young boys
  • Britney Spears is a good role model for young girls
  • Cartoons should be banned
  • Levels of pocket money should be set by the government
  • Teenage magazines talk too much about sex
  • Women should stay at home and look after the children
  • Footballers earn too much money
  • Compulsory PE should be banned in schools
  • English is the best subject at school
  • You should be allowed to choose all your GCSE subjects

You can [broken link]watch our video of primary school students from Hackney playing Rebuttal Tennis.

Mamamoo

This game builds non-verbal communication skills. The teacher picks a pupil and shows them a feeling (sad, happy, shy, angry, surprised, scared, cheeky, disappointed, confident, excited etc.). The pupil has to communicate the emotion to the group or class but can only say “mamamoo”, or so other piece of non-sensical language; so they must use facial and vocal expression and body language. The group must guess the emotion. You can move on to situations to increase the challenge (saying sorry, asking for directions, proposing, teaching a class, telling a joke etc.).

Emotional counting

This exercise builds non-verbal communication skills. The teacher picks a pupil and asks them to count from one to ten changing their emotion as they go e.g. starting at one with “happy” and gradually moving until they finish at ten with ”sad”. The pupil cannot communicate the change through language so must use vocal and facial expression and body language.

The “Um-err” game

This game aims to build fluency. The pupil is given a simple topic to talk about (my school, my family, animals, television, sport etc). They have sixty seconds to talk on their topic. If they speak for the whole sixty seconds then they get sixty points. But every time they say “um” or “er” they lose a point. So a student who manages to speak for 45 seconds and does 8 ums and ers receives 37 points. The game to be widened to include banned words such as “like”, “basically”, “innit”, “you know” etc to encourage the use of formal English.

This game aims to build fluency. The pupil is given a simple topic to talk about (my school, my family, animals, television, sport etc). They have sixty seconds to talk on their topic. If they speak for the whole sixty seconds then they get sixty points. But every time they say “um” or “er” they lose a point. So a student who manages to speak for 45 seconds and does 8 ums and ers receives 37 points. The game to be widened to include banned words such as “like”, “basically”, “innit”, “you know” etc to encourage the use of formal English.

I couldn’t disagree more …

This simple exercise helps to build the skill of thinking on your feet and quick response. The teacher (or pupil) makes a statement and invites another pupil to respond starting with “I couldn’t disagree more because…” and developing their reason. The statements can be light-hearted or serious, linked to the curriculum, current affairs, school issues or totally random e.g “We should brush our teeth every day”, “cats are better than dogs”, “war is always wrong”, “we should get rid of our school uniform”, ”Goldilocks was a very naughty girl” etc.

Where do you stand?

For this activity you need to designate one side of the room as “strongly agree” and one side as “strongly agree” the space in between goes from one to the other with “completely undecided” being right in the middle. The teacher then makes a statement (e.g “Zoos should be banned”, “We should bring back the death penalty”, ”All schools should be co-educational”) and the pupils have to go and stand where they feel their own views are. Once they are still the teacher can select pupils and ask them their reason for choosing their position.

You can [broken link]watch our video of primary school pupils from Hackney do this exercise.

Lord of the Points

This activity requires the teacher or a capable student to deliver a speech on a debatable topic. As they are speaking the rest of the group stand up to interupt them “points of information”. Whereas in a debate these can be declined, in the exercise all must be accepted.

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