Wednesday 1 February 2012

Debating SOPA


Before the debate, for homework, students can be asked to research SOPA online to find out what it is and the strongest arguments for and against it.

  • Write on the board “media blackout”. Elicit ideas about what this phrase implies (censorship of news about a particular topic, imposed by governments or media companies for whatever reason).
  • Write now “Internet blackout” and again invite learners to guess what the phrase implies (censorship of the Internet by switching off online services).
  • Ask students to think about why major Internet companies like Facebook, Google, Wikipedia and Paypal have taken part in an Internet blackout.  Put them into pairs or small groups and ask them to discuss their ideas.
  • Elicit ideas from different groups, writing down useful language on the board.

Watch the Video: Explanation of the Law SOPA

You can make pauses to check understanding.

It is necessary to make it clear that by no means do we agree with what the narrator says in min. 5:37 of the video: Remember, those who work on the agreement might not have any clue what the Internet is about.
Let’s assume he is trying to be ironic.

After watching the video:

Ask students to spend some time thinking about and noting down their arguments for or against SOPA. Ask them to consider the arguments the other side might offer as well, and think of counter-arguments against them. Monitor the students here, help with language and encourage or suggest possible arguments or counter-arguments.

Holding the debate:

There are a number of ways you could do this. Here are some:

With smaller classes of 6 to 8 students:
  • Explain that each student will have up to three minutes to put forward one argument in favour of or against SOPA and to respond to their opponent’s last argument as necessary. Write on the board “speaker 1″, “speaker 2″, “speaker 3″ (and “speaker 4″).
  • Elicit that the first speaker introduces their side’s case and present one argument.
  • The first speaker for the opposition responds to the first speaker’s argument, introduces their side’s opinion and gives an argument for it.
  • The second speaker of the first team then responds to that argument and presents one of their own, and so on.
  • The last speakers give their arguments and summarise their team’s case. Allow each group to allocate roles, then let the debate begin, asking your students to try and use a variety of ways of agreeing, disagreeing, and so on; noting down language issues (pronunciation, vocabulary- or grammar-related, and so on) for subsequent feedback.

With larger classes: 
  1. Elicit speakers’ roles as above, and allow different debates to proceed simultaneously. Ask students to draw a conclusion and to report it to the rest of the class. You can give delayed error correction in different ways after the debates.
  2. Turn the activity into a more casual debate, pairing As with Bs and asking them to spend 5 or 6 minutes debating the issue, while you circulate and monitor their language use. Afterwards, either give delayed feedback or ask the pairs to swap around and continue their debates with a new partner, then give feedback.

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