40 Debate Topics for the ESL Classroom

A debate is a discussion in which participants articulate, justify, and clarify their positions on an issue or refute statements made by the opposing side.

Debates are important because debates:

  • Are a way of expressing your point of view about a topic.
  • Promote critical thinking
  • Promote research
  • Are a transformational experience for students
  • Create leaders

Now let’s check all that you need to make the most out of your classroom time with the help of debates

Debate: Basic Definitions

These are some basic definitions you should know before you organize a debate

  • Topic: A general issue to debate
  • Constructive Speech: The first speeches in a debate
  • The Pro: The side that “affirms” the resolution
  • The Con: The side that “negates” the resolution
  • Evidence: Supporting materials for arguments

How to Organize a Debate

These are some of the steps to organize a debate.

  • You should select the topic
  • Help students to take a stand
  • Let students do the proper research
  • Select a moderator
  • Ensure that both parties have an equal participation

Now let’s explore each of the steps

Select the topic

The topic for a debate evolves from what you are teaching but it has to be controversial in some degree

For example, the gun debate is a controversial topic in the United States but it might not be a good topic if you live in other countries.

Take a stand

Who’s pro and who’s con? Every debate has two sides, the affirmative side and the negative side.

The teacher can divide the class into pros and cons, or students may choose their own stance

I suggest everyone taking their side so nobody has to pretend to be somebody who is not.

Let the research begin

Allow students do the research. Fact gathering should support the student’s point of view.

Organize the debate a few weeks in advanced so everyone is ready and the debate is not entirely based on opinions and biases.

Select the moderator

The moderator directs the debate and may be the teacher or a student.

The moderator formally introduces the debate topic and recognizes students to speak alternating between pro and con.

Ensure Equal Participation

Students should not speak until all students have had an opportunity to voice their opinion.

We all have a position but we should ensure our opinions, biases and positions interfere with the debate.

What are the Stages of a Debate?

These are the stages of a debate.

The debate starts with the opening statement by both parties and then there are several round in which both parties can make their points.

The rebuttal time is a moment to deal with the statements made in the different rounds if these haven’t been addressed.

The debates ends with the closing statements by members of each party.

Opening Statement by  Team A and Team B

Round 1
Team A Speaker 1 – 3-minute limit
Team B Speaker 1 – 3-minute limit

Round 2 
Team A Speaker 2 – 3-minute limit
Team B Speaker 2 – 3-minute limit

Round 3
Team A Speaker 3– 3-minute limit
Team B Speaker 3 – 3-minute limit

Round 4
Team A Speaker 4– 3-minute limit
Team B Speaker 4 – 3-minute limit

Round 5
Team A Speaker 5– 3-minute limit
Team B Speaker 5 – 3-minute limit

Final Round
A Rebuttal — 5 minute limit
B Rebuttal — 5 minute limit

Closing Statement  by  Team A and Team B

26 Debate Topics for the ESL Classroom

These are 26 debate topics that are recommended for the ESL Classroom.

I know some of those topics are very controversial, you should probably talk to your students or classmates about it before choosing one.

Some topics are not up for discussion in some countries but they are being discussed in other.

For example: Abortion in El Salvador is still illegal

So choose carefully, if you think that one topic can lead to undesired results, definitely don’t choose that one.

Debate Topics: Part 1

These are some debate topics that are some sort of controversial.

  • Video Games are a waste of time.
  • Countries need to legalize medical marihuana.
  • Countries need to legalize recreational marihuana.
  • Smartphones have made our lives easier.
  • Animal shouldn’t be used for medical research.
  • Marriage is outdated.
  • Military service must be obligatory.
  • Countries should have curfews after midnight
  • Torture can be considered depending on certain circumstances
  • Smoking should be banned
  • Schools should ban religion classes
  • Guns should be banned
  • Death penalty must be implemented to reduce crime

Debate Topics: Part 2

These are some debate topics that are some sort of controversial.

  • Alcohol should be illegal.
  • Gay marriage should not be legalized
  • Gay marriage should be legalized
  • Ill patients should be allowed to end their lives
  • The Theory of Evolution is true
  • Evolution is not true
  • Sex education should be taught in schools
  • Teachers should be allowed to carry guns
  • Software piracy is not really a crime
  • Climate change is a fact
  • Climate Change is a hoax
  • The Earth is flat
  • Gender Neutral Bathrooms should be built in all schools
  • Nobody should have a cell phone until they are 15
  • People should be punished by downloading pirated content

Debate Topics: Part 3

These are some debate topics that are some sort of controversial.

  • Universal basic income should be implemented in every country.
  • Privacy is more important than national security.
  • Social media platforms should be regulated by the government.
  • Should public universities be tuition-free?
  • Should there be limits on campaign spending in political elections?
  • Is nuclear energy a viable and safe alternative to fossil fuels?
  • Is homeschooling better than traditional schooling?
  • Should the sale and consumption of sugary drinks be heavily taxed?
  • Is space exploration a worthwhile investment of resources?
  • Should the minimum wage be raised to a living wage?
  • Is it ethical for companies to use personal data for targeted advertising?

Quotes for Discussing Ideas

These are some quotes that can help you generate some conversations.

On The Road

“The best teacher is experience and not through someone’s distorted point of view”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

“I just won’t sleep,” I decided. There were so many other interesting things to do.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road

Romeo and Juliet

“Don’t waste your love on somebody, who doesn’t value it.”
― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

“These violent delights have violent ends.”
― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Fight Club

“It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

“You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your khakis. You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

“We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

“Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy crap we don’t need.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

English Teaching Related Posts

I hope you have found everything you were looking for about debates and debate topics

Make sure that you check some of these posts before you go

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Manuel Campos, English Professor

Manuel Campos

I am Jose Manuel, English professor and creator of EnglishPost.org, a blog whose mission is to share lessons for those who want to learn and improve their English