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Let the Debate Begin! Effective Argumentation and Debate Techniques

Russell P. Hubert, Kyoto Sangyo University
Tokai University Press


[Takuzo Konishi, Tomohiro Kanke, and Peter J. Collins. Tokai University Press, 2007. pp. x + 125. ¥2,000. ISBN: 978-4-486-01756-1; Teacher’s Edition, pp. x + 187. ¥7,400. ISBN 978-4-486-01757-8.]

Let the Debate Begin! is a textbook designed for English debate courses at Japanese universities. Incorporating debate into the EFL curriculum not only improves students’ English ability, but also develops their analytical, rhetorical, and presentation skills (Byron, Goldstein, Murphy, & Roberts, 1993). The combination of content study, language practice, and critical thinking equips students with communicative skills that are needed for academic study and also in many work environments (Stewart, 2003).

The competitive nature of debate can also be an educational advantage. Students who may be reluctant to express their opinion on a given issue to avoid conflict in normal conversation may feel freer to do so in the context of debate (Luckett, 2006). With these considerations in mind, I field-tested this textbook during preparations for a campus-wide English debate competition. This contest, sponsored by the university’s international exchange office, was open to students from all departments. Both the students and staff found the explanations and worksheets in this new textbook valuable and easy to use.

The majority of the textbook is written in Japanese to build a solid foundation in the theory of debate in the students’ native language. However, all appropriate debate expressions, propositions (arguable statements), and activities are introduced in English. Chapter titles, subsection titles, and many of the explanatory tables and diagrams are also provided in English. An instructor will find enough to follow the organization and basic content of the text, but at least an intermediate level of Japanese proficiency is required to become completely familiarized with it, especially for instructors unaccustomed to debate.

The student textbook is organized into 12 chapters. Chapters 1 to 3 explain the basic concepts of debate, its various formats, and the importance of the proposition in a debate. Chapters 4 and 5 deal with the construction of debate arguments. Chapter 6 covers researching and using logical support. Chapters 7 and 8 discuss cross-examining and responding to arguments. Analyses of advantages, disadvantages, and counter plans for propositions of policy are covered in Chapters 9 through 11. Finally, the preparation and judging of a classroom-based debate is taken up in Chapter 12. Following these chapters, 11 sets of English worksheets for the activities in Chapters 3 to 10 are included for students to prepare arguments and practice the techniques presented in the textbook. An overview page with chapter references, goals, and step-by-step instructions in English for the worksheets is also provided. Additionally, separate English and Japanese indices are included, with English translations also listed for each entry of the Japanese index for easy cross-reference.

The teacher’s edition incorporates the full student textand provides extensive notes in Japanese in the margins. There are an additional 24 photocopiable English worksheets to supplement those in the student edition. The appendices have several other useful resources, including a list of debate propositions and topic areas, a compilation of online resources, and two full sample English debates in transcript form, with explanatory notes in Japanese. A one-year, once a week debate course syllabus and exampleexaminations complete the teacher’s edition.

Perhaps the most difficult part of preparing Japanese students to participate in English debate is explaining its theory, structures, and strategies. To this end, Let the Debate Begin! is superb in its approach by using the native language of the students to convey these difficult concepts. The supporting English materials and worksheets guide students through all stages of debate development and practice. The usefulness of this text will mostly be limited by the typical university EFL curriculum, since it is designed for a debate-specific, yearlong course. It is also intended for students with a relatively high level of English proficiency. Although universities that hold an English debate as a school-wide activity will find this textbook a valuable resource, language instructors whoseek to supplement regular English speaking and discussion classes with debate activities would likely feel overwhelmed with the volume of theoretical and explanatory material in this excellent text.



Byron, S., Goldstein, L., Murphy, D., Roberts, E. (1993). Interdisciplinary dimensions of debate. Hong Kong Papers in Linguistics and Language Teaching, 16, 31-52.

Luckett, J. W. (2006). Basic concepts for teaching and learning debate. Hokusei Review, 43(2), 111-122.

Stewart, T. (2003). Debate for ESOL students. TESOL Journal, 12(1), 9-15.

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