The idea is very simple: there are two things, you need to choose one and say why. Because it’s a speaking activity, the more arguments you give, the better.
For example, ‘Which is better, cats or dogs?’ or ‘Which do you prefer, cats or dogs?’ These are typical class handouts for this task:
I know that some people find it really hard to choose between two options, but remember that the point here is to develop your Speaking skills and not to be 100% right or exact. So don’t take it too seriously and use your imagination if needed.
How to maximise the language output with a simple activity
It may look simple, but if approached right, you can find yourself in a heated discussion having fun and activating all sorts of language.
The activity can be used as a game for two people or two teams (see the instruction above). Or it can be more like a discussion/ debate where you explore different arguments for and against. You can even turn it into a for-and-against essay.
I like this activity because it helps to generate a lot of language, including grammar, and can be done with beginners and advanced students alike. Also, in life we’re often faced with different choices and need to make a decision, and this activity might prepare you for such situations.
Let’s take ‘Cats or dogs?’ as an example
I’ll show you how you can develop your arguments in terms of grammar and functional language.
Simple sentences (A1): Cats are fluffy. – Dogs are funny. – Cats purr. – Dogs jump around you.
Comparative adjectives (A2): Cats are more comforting because they purr. – But dogs are funnier. – Cats are easier to look after. – But dogs are cleverer.
Modals (B1): Cats are better because they can calm you down. – Yes, but you can’t go with them for a walk. – No, but you don’t have to walk them every day either. And you can take cats with you in a special bag. – OK but then you have to carry them, and it’s heavy.
If you take the version Which do you prefer..? there will be a lot of expressing likes/ dislikes + cleft sentences (B1-B2): What I love about cats is their purring. But dogs and their barking… it’s so annoying! I can’t stand it. – What I hate about cats is the smell. And I adore talking to my dog, she understands everything!
Giving complex arguments + expressing one’s opinion + agreeing/ disagreeing + asking for opinion (B2): Although cats may seem independent, they can be very loyal to their masters. I believe cats are more intelligent pets. – On the other hand, you can never predict if a cat will like you whereas with dogs it’s almost a 100% guarantee. – I see your point, but then don’t you think that it doesn’t show dogs as smart animals? What if their master treats them badly and they still love him/her? Isn’t it strange? – OK, you’ve got a point here, but do you really think cats like only those who treat them well?
Past tenses and conditionals (B2-C1): You know, I have a cat. Last week I had to go away for a couple of days, and that wasn’t a problem. If I had a dog, I couldn’t have gone away so easily. – If you had a dog, you could have taken it with you. – No, but it was a serious business meeting. Our team was presenting a new project and… (more details in the past tenses).
Speculating + hypothetical language + paraphrasing (C1): I’ve no idea which is better as I’ve never had pets. But if I had to choose, I’d probably say that cats are better. It seems to me that it’s easier to look after them and it might be less expensive, I guess. – Oh, I see. But given the choice, I’d never take a cat. That would mean you can’t go anywhere for a long time! – So what you’re saying is that it’s actually more convenient to have a dog. – Might be so, yes.
So you see, this simple activity can easily take an hour and help you use lots of language. It can be fun as well – everything depends on your arguments. As you study new topics (e.g. health, social issues), you can prepare similar cards for further revision.
If you try it out, let me know in the comments how it went =)