Resources and Tips for Small Group Debates

In an older post, I shared one resource with debate topics and and suggested some possible classroom formats. My recent private students have prompted me to search for more questions we could discuss either one-on-one or in small groups.

  1. lives up to its tagline: “The leading resource for pros and cons of controversial issues.” This robust site is suitable for advanced  learners who can take the time to prepare for an oral debate. There are short summaries of positions and detailed background information to support either argument. Topics range from global to domestic issues. Take time to determine whether the “micro” (my preferred format) or “standard” site meets your students’ needs before sharing any links.
  2. ThoughtCo. has a list of 50 Debate Topics for the High School Classroom. The list sorts topics into categories that make the selection process easier: Science and Technology, Politics and Government, Social Issues, and Education.
  3. The New York Times put together an even longer list: Our 100 Most Popular Student Questions for Debate and Persuasive Writing. They even added to the list since the publication date and they provide links to additional discussions. The site allows for independent study and practice through the comment section. Comments from U.S. students and parents are posted, and they expose ELLs to useful expressions for giving an opinion: I honestly believe that… and  In my personal opinion…
  4. is a good resource to keep in mind because it covers the bigger issues like gun control, but it also has a whole section devoted to “funny” topics. There’s nothing like a silly question to prompt laughter and get students to relax. Ask them this one: Does it matter how you eat a banana? That’s one poll I found on this site. Students can visit the polls and vote on such topics independently.

Here’s a format I found to be effective in a small group. I preselected three or four topics under each category listed on ThoughtCo. (See link above). During the lesson, I let students take turns naming a category and choosing a specific question. The person who selected the topic had to state their opinion first along with a short argument. This was preceded by looking at a list of conversational ways to express an opinion, such as “My feeling is that…” or “The way I see it…” The student then had to invite another to give a second opinion using one of my suggested invitations: What are you thoughts? Do you feel the same way? How do you feel about this? Etc. We were able to cover a few different topics in a single lesson.

Got some good good debate topics? Please share them.


Photo credit: Face, Silhouette, Communication, Mask by Geralt. Retrieved from the Public Domain at

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