Great debates start with interesting debate topics. But choosing one is easier said than done. You have to find the right balance between your debate team’s interests and what can be appealing to your audience.
Moreover, selecting a topic based on its controversial aspects alone cannot guarantee an engaging discussion. You will have to spend some time researching opposing views on a particular topic and find studies or data you can use to support each conclusion in research. This will ensure that the topic will be complex enough for your class to discuss and sustain a long and interesting debate.
To get you started, we have organized some of the debatable topics that are highly contested in specific fields such as education, technology, science, and the environment. You can also use them as a springboard for coming up with topics relevant to a theme you have been assigned in school.
The skills you learn from debating are not limited to public speaking or eloquence in expressing your ideas. Preparing for a debate helps you increase your critical thinking and essay writing skills. You will also conduct research in order to support your side of the argument, which can improve your abilities to assess references and analyze data. Indeed, debate activities can be an effective way to develop the skills needed to become a modern citizen in the 21st century, including collaboration, communication, and creativity (U.S. Department of Education, 2012). Hay (2001, cited in Healey, 2012) proposed that we should dedicate elevated levels of energy to pursuits that provide the ability to sustain higher education institutions as venues for fair, revolutionary, and critical scholarship.
Teaching provides students with vast opportunities to undertake critical thinking about the world at large and this can have a long-term effect on their outlook and the possibility for social change (Wellens et al., 2006). Aside from life-long skills, statistics also indicate that debaters improve their overall academic performance. They score better on the ACT and SAT, which help their applications to prestigious post-secondary institutions (Rowlandhall.org, n.d.). Also, 90% of urban high school debaters graduate (American Debate League, n.d.) and 98.58% of debaters move on to attend college with higher chances of being offered scholarships (Rowlandhall.org, n.d.).
Debate Can Improve Academic Performance
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Source: American Debate League/Rowlandhall.org
There are many challenges facing the current education system that can be big topics for discussion. Perhaps one of the most prevalent is the student loan debt crisis, which has already amounted to $1.6 trillion (Bastrikin, 2020). Other issues in higher education include rising college tuition, drop out rates, the mental health of students, and standardized testing.
Elementary and secondary education also have their share of challenges. Safety is on top of the list with discussions about arming teachers to protect their students and hiring armed security guards at schools. Other concerns include the impact of technology on children’s learning, teacher salaries, revisions in the curriculum, and healthier food choices for students. The following are other topics worth checking out.
Do you need to have a college degree to get a good job?
Should there be free college education?
Is a college degree worth accumulating student loan debt?
Should all student loan debt be forgiven?
Do schools need to have armed security guards?
Should drug testing be required in schools?
Can performance-based funding policies help address the college dropout problem?
Are universities causing anxiety and mental problems to students?
Is detention effective in disciplining students?
Should schools provide cash incentives for good test scores?
Is it necessary to implement a healthier school lunch program?
Should football be banned in schools?
Should schools ban fast food?
Are private schools better than public schools?
Should students buy their own laptops?
Does homework help students learn?
Should high school last six years?
Will raising the dropout age be beneficial to students and teachers?
Should schools ban the use of cellphones in school?
Should schools focus more on math and science than art and music?
Is LGBT+ inclusive sex education necessary in schools?
Should teachers be paid as much as doctors?
Are standardized tests effective in measuring a student’s abilities?
Should schools include Religion in their curriculum?
Should standardized testing be abolished?
Is homeschooling more effective than traditional schooling?
Should schools require students to study a second language?
Should students be allowed to grade their teachers?
Are tracking devices necessary in students’ ID cards?
Should schools make uniforms mandatory?
Should schools provide teachers with guns to defend students?
Should schools teach or impose teaching a particular religion?
Should schools be made mixed accepting both genders?
Should schools be used to promote nationalism?
Emerging technologies are among the top debatable topics when it comes to technology. Ethical issues surrounding artificial intelligence and machine learning, for example, are not only controversial but also encourage students to think critically about the effects of technology on the future of work, wealth distribution, and humanity.
The effects of social media on human communication and relationships and the benefits of video games are also highly relatable topics, especially for a younger audience. You will also find many interesting points of discussion on topics revolving around the internet, technology and productivity, cybersecurity, and privacy.
Is technology increasing people’s quality of life?
Is artificial intelligence dangerous?
Should potential employers consider an applicant’s social media during a job application?
Are cameras on drones effective in maintaining security in public spaces or are they a violation of privacy?
Should humans invest in technology to colonize other planets?
Has email improved communication?
Do video games make us smarter or are their cognitive benefits overrated?
Is technology making people less productive?
Should schools use computer games for classroom instruction?
Is technology making us more distant than connected to people?
Should all cars be electric?
Is technology helping people become smarter or is it making them dumber?
Has social media improved people’s relationships?
Should net neutrality be restored?
Is online education better than traditional education?
Should robots have rights?
Is it ok to allow companies to collect information about us?
Does classroom technology enhance learning?
Should parents control how much time their children spend using electronics and the internet?
Are laws able to keep up with advancements in technology?
Is cybersecurity being overlooked by businesses?
Are Android devices better than Apple?
Are people spending too much money on apps?
Does technology prevent more crime or does it enable more people to commit crimes?
Do we still have control over technology or is it already controlling us?
Watch the highlights of a debate on whether technology is making us smarter or dumber:
Science debate topics can be as contentious as “Should human cloning be legalized” or as intriguing and philosophical as “Is there life on other planets?” or “Is reincarnation possible?”
The great thing about these topics is that they are relevant to a wide audience and are not limited to current events. You can choose topics that cover biology, psychology, genetics, and even food and nutrition.
Should gene editing be allowed for the purpose of guaranteeing health?
Should science try to revive extinct creatures?
Is the world better off with or without genetically modified food?
Should animal testing be allowed?
Do we need to make immunization mandatory?
Should a person own their DNA?
Will it be beneficial to expand stem cell research?
Should organ procurement from a deceased person be allowed without the need for consent?
Should human cloning be legalized?
Is it necessary to increase lifespans?
Should we encourage people to opt for homeopathic medicine?
Is behavior determined only by our genes?
Are vaccines risky or safe for children?
Should marijuana be considered medicine?
Is there life on other planets?
Should there be stricter regulations on fast-food chains when it comes to food nutrition?
Should we blame fast-food restaurants for obesity?
Is it necessary to include nutrition classes in elementary and high school lessons?
Are antidepressants effective?
Are humans causing animal extinctions or it is a process of evolution?
Is evolution a theory or a fact?
Should we ban trans fat?
Is transgender a reality or a gender disorder?
Do we need to have different treatment approaches to psychiatric disorders compared to physical diseases?
Is reincarnation possible?
Is pedigree breeding an unethical practice?
Election-related topics are very popular because of the upcoming U.S. elections. These include topics like “Should the Electoral College be abolished?” and “Is the voting system in America democratic?”
Another top debatable topic is gun control. You can further drill down into this issue by focusing on laws that aim to make it more difficult to purchase guns. You can also tackle the issue of allowing concealed handguns or justifying the ownership of automatic weapons.
When it comes to political debates, issues around immigration in the U.S. are always a pressing concern. Some of the topics you can start with include DACA, refugees in the U.S., and migrant workers.
Should there be stricter gun control laws?
Is Brexit a wrong move?
Should churches and religious institutions pay taxes?
Is there a need to retrain police officers on how to use force?
Should Social Security be privatized?
Is freedom of speech even relevant in a functional society?
Can owning an automatic weapon be justified?
Is patriotism doing more harm than good when it comes to international relations?
Should the penny remain in circulation?
Do electronic voting machines make the electoral process more efficient?
Is the voting system in America democratic?
Should election day be made into a holiday?
Should the Electoral College be abolished?
Is Universal Basic Income a good idea?
Should the U.S. lift all sanctions on North Korea and Iran?
Do we need to place limits on the First Amendment?
Should there be 24 jurors in a jury instead of 12?
Should discussions about politics be avoided in school?
Is the four-year presidential term too long or should it be extended to six years?
Should taxation laws be amended to require rich people and companies to pay more taxes?
Are illegal migrants criminals?
Should the drinking age be lowered?
Do we need to lower the voting age to 16?
Is it time to abolish all monarchies in the world?
Is it a fact that dictatorship can work for certain countries?
Is the U.S. not accepting enough refugees?
Is there a need to make national public service compulsory?
Should concealed handguns be allowed for all adults?
Is the DACA good for America?
Should the U.S. maintain daylight savings time?
Climate change is perhaps the first issue that comes into mind when people think about debate topics related to the environment. This is because people are experiencing warmer temperatures and other changes such as severe weather or storms. A survey conducted in February 2020 among American adults revealed that 49% of respondents claimed to see warmer temperatures in their own region. This was up from 42% in the previous year (Tiseo, 2020).
Aside from climate change, you can also opt for topics that do not receive as much mainstream attention but are as equally important. Organic farming, plastic packaging, energy-saving appliances, and tourism are just some of the interesting topics you can explore.
Is global warming fact or myth?
Should governments start banning plastic bags and plastic packaging?
Are humans to blame for global warming?
Should the export of live animals be banned?
Is overpopulation a threat to the environment?
Should governments invest in alternative sources of energy?
Can a vegan diet fight global warming?
Is the Paris Agreement still relevant?
Can we still reverse climate change?
Are non-chemical cleaning products worth the cost?
Should countries dedicate more land to national parks?
Can alternative sources of energy be effective substitutes for fossil fuels?
Should we explore solar geoengineering to fight climate change?
Are zoos doing more harm than good to the environment?
Should fracking be banned?
Can organic farming be a sustainable method of food production for the future?
Should we put a stop to the sale of fur?
Is tourism beneficial to an environment? Should tourism be banned in order to protect the environment?
Should the government impose more tax on carbon emission to companies?
Can clean energy drive America’s economy to recovery?
Are investments in reducing carbon emission worth the money?
Has the Basel Convention been effective in preventing hazardous waste exportation?
Are energy-saving life bulbs really helping the environment?
Should we raise gasoline prices to encourage the shift to energy-efficient cars?
Should we ban mining to protect the environment?
A good debate topic is where an issue is nearly 50:50 between for and against a premise.
U.S. Global Warming Impacts Observed Among Adults 2019-2020
percentage of respondents who claimed to see warmer temperatures in their own region
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With literally thousands of social issues on the table, it can be hard to make up your mind on which one to discuss. Many of these topics also crossover to technology, politics, education, and other areas. This means you have complex topics that can be a good start for a long and intellectually charged debate.
Is atheism better than any religion?
Should the U.S. abolish the death penalty?
Is censorship on the internet justified?
Should we legalize euthanasia?
Will electronic databases totally replace traditional libraries?
Should all women have access to abortion?
Can censorship sometimes be warranted?
Should drug use be considered a mental health problem or a criminal offense?
Will nationalism benefit or endanger countries in the context of globalization?
Can peer pressure be a good thing?
Should marijuana be legalized?
Should gay people be allowed to adopt children?
Can graffiti become a highly regarded art like classical paintings?
Is the #MeToo movement already out of control?
Should sex work be legalized?
Are people too reliant on their smartphones and computers?
Should alcoholics be allowed to receive a liver transplant?
Does religion do more harm than good?
Should feminism focus more on men’s rights?
Are children with broken families disadvantaged?
Should insurance provide coverage for cosmetic procedures?
Is botox doing more harm than good?
Are we living in a dystopian society?
Should couples live together before getting married?
Is it necessary to raise the minimum wage?
Should smoking be banned?
Is there too much pressure in society to have perfect bodies?
Can stricter gun control prevent mass shootings?
Should the government provide free birth control?
Are photoshopped images producing unrealistic views and standards for beauty?
Which is more important? Hard work or talent?
Should parents be allowed to use corporal punishment?
Should the government raise taxes on food products with high sugar content?
Are beauty pageants doing more harm than good when it comes to gender equality?
Choosing Your Debate Topic
As you have seen on our list of top debatable topics, there are many interesting and controversial options to choose from. They can all be reframed to better match the level your team is debating—middle school, high school, or college level. As Oulton et al. (2007, cited in Bruen et al., 2016) stressed, protagonists on opposing sides of an argument may have similar materials or knowledge but may expound on them in contrary fashion, or may establish their opinions on diverse angles of the same materials.
If the debate is for a class project, it is best to choose debate topics that are not only interesting to you but also something that all your classmates can benefit from discussing. A topic that is current or has huge relevance to your school or community can also work well. Be sure to allot some time to research if there are major studies or current surveys available on your prospective topic. This can make it easier to back up your arguments with empirical data; thus, leading to a more engaging and objective debate.
Finally, we recommend avoiding topics that are likely to be too personal for other students in your class and topics that are very personal to you as well. This is because as a debater, you must be ready and open to others criticizing your opinions. If the topic is too personal for you, you might not be able to perform at your best during the debate. So, when choosing a topic, ask yourself if you can handle a rebuttal without feeling personally attacked.
Bruen, J., Crosbie, V., Kelly, N., Loftus, M., Maillot, A., McGillicuddy, A., & Péchenart, J. (2016). Teaching controversial topics in the humanities and social sciences in Ireland: Using structured academic controversy to develop multi-perspectivity in the learner. Journal of Social Science Education, 15 (3), 18-25. http://doras.dcu.ie/21422/
Healey, R.L. (2012). The power of debate: Reflections on the potential of debates for engaging students in critical thinking about controversial geographical topics. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 36 (2), 239–257. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03098265.2011.619522
Rowlandhall (n.d.) The benefits of debate. Why supporting high school debate is a worthwhile project. Rowlandhall.org.
Statista Research Department (2016, October 20). Most watched presidential debates in the United States as of 2016, by number of households. Statista.
Tiseo, I. (2020, April 15). Climate change impacts seen among U.S. adults in 2019 and 2020.Statista.
Duncan, A. (2012, April 12). The Power of Debate—Building the Five “C’s” for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: US Department of Education.
Wellens, J., Berardi, A., Chalkley, B., Chambers, B., Healey, R., Monk, J., & Vender, J. (2006). Teaching geography for social transformation. Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 30 (1), 117-131. https://doi.org/10.1080/03098260500499717