Whether joining the high school debate team or talking about topical discussions in class, debating is a wonderful way to shore up speaking skills and build confidence. Debating helps you learn about yourself, think on your feet, and how to take a stand on issues. To prepare for a debate, consider some of these issues and questions to help formulate a solid argument.
Social Debate Topics
The Welfare System
Should there be time limits on welfare benefits and should welfare recipients be required to take drug tests? Many states are examining ways to update and modify the traditional welfare system. In 2017 the state of Maine again proposed a ban on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) participants' ability to buy soda and candy. In late 2016 the USDA made a new rule requiring stores accepting SNAP to carry a wider variety of healthy food options. Are these changes helpful or harmful? Are there other ways society can help each other?
Should abortion be legal? Is late-term abortion ever an acceptable choice? These questions form the bulk of the debate over abortion. When forming an argument based on these questions, you must consider abortion in cases of rape and whether teenagers should be able to get an abortion without their parents being notified. Arguments could also explore the definition of abortion and the rights of both mothers and fathers.
Legalization of Gay Marriage
The U.S. Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage, but many are still debating the issue. At the center of the debate are what the true definition of marriage is and whether gay couples should be given the same rights and benefits as married heterosexual couples. Some question whether this is a legal issue or a religious issue. Debates could examine how the legalization of gay marriage has affected society as a whole.
Traditional Families vs. Contemporary Families
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. As couples split up, families change. In addition to divorced families, couples with children choose not to marry, gay couples have children, and grandparents raise their grandchildren. Is the traditional family still best or can contemporary families be just as good?
There is talk on state and federal levels of an adoption agency's right to exclude certain types of parents or families from adopting children from them. According to the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau there are over 100,000 children awaiting adoption in the United States. Should the government or private agencies be allowed to turn away loving, capable parents when so many children are in need of permanent homes? Is there a set of universal criteria that determine whether a person will be a good adoptive parent?
The Teenage Workload
Between high school classes, social engagements, sports and clubs, after school jobs, internships, college planning, and family life, teenagers today are typically very busy. Should parents allow teens to fill their calendars, or is it their job to enact limits on time spent outside of school and home? Which activities should take precedence and is society expecting too much of adolescents?
The Hook Up Culture and Sex Ed
Modern times have brought about an accepted culture of sexual experiences as casual and full of immediately gratifying experiences. According to Zur Institute, 60-70 percent of teens take part in this attitude and activities. What are the ramifications of this flippant take on sexual experiences? Does this movement benefit society in any way? What are the causes of such a monumental shift in sexual attitudes? Is this attitude reflected in current sex education? Debates should examine whether this mindset is better than others, such as abstinence, and how/if education plays a role. Do schools have a responsibility and right to encourage specific attitudes toward sexual encounters or should this be a family issue?
Political Debate Topics
The debate over gun control centers around whether citizens should be able to own and carry guns. An argument should consider the risks that come with owning a gun and the possibility of guns falling into the wrong hands or being used to harm someone in cases other than self-defense. You can also explore the discrepancy between federal and state laws regarding gun ownership and what criteria are appropriate for purchasing and owning guns.
Waterboarding and Other Forms of Torture
To help gain information from terrorists, the U.S. government uses various forms of torture, including waterboarding. Are these methods of gaining information humane? Is waterboarding a form of cruel and unusual punishment? Are there other reliable methods that pose less risk? Do terrorists and other prisoners maintain basic rights, or are there a specific set of rights for this population?
As gas prices rise, some people think tapping into America's oil reserves will help lower gas prices and reduce how much the United States relies on countries such as Iran for oil. Those against offshore drilling cite the cost, negative environmental impact, and dangers it poses. Debates should examine if offshore drilling is the best option, whether there are other reliable and safe forms of energy available, and current legislation regarding energy sources in America.
What measures should the United States take to prevent illegal immigration from happening and what should happen to them if they are found. Should the United States implement more policies to prevent and punish people who enter illegally or should the immigration policies be more lenient? Furthermore, who is considered an illegal immigrant? For example, if children are brought to the country illegally (and presumably at the discretion of a trusted adult), should they be treated as equals to illegally residing adults?
The Death Penalty
Is the death penalty a form of cruel and unusual punishment? Are certain groups of people sentenced to the death penalty more than others? These questions are two of the biggest components of the capital punishment debate. Arguments related to this topic include what message the death penalty sends to society, which execution methods are most acceptable, and laws regarding the criteria for receiving the death penalty.
Social Media's Role in Stopping Fake News
Pew research suggests 38 percent of Americans get their news online, namely from social media outlets. Given their wide influence, should social apps and websites have a responsibility to thwart fake news? Websites like Google and Facebook have taken actions to help consumers spot fake news and remove sites or users peddling misinformation. Are they doing enough and is it their job to 'police' the information shared on their sites? Arguments should also include the definition of fake news, how it affects society, and whether it is considered free speech.
As the term transgender becomes part of mainstream vocabulary, it raises many questions about the rights of this seemingly new segment of the population. The center of the debate is whether students should be forced to use public bathrooms, including those in schools, for the gender they were assigned at birth, or if they should be free to use the one corresponding to the gender they currently identify with. The Federal government has been involved in the discussion, but now suggests each state should decide on the topic. Does this debate violate federal laws in any way? Is it better for there to be a state-by-state judgment or should there be a federal stance? Is this an issue of bathroom use, or is it actually about discrimination?
Science Debate Topics
Stem Cell Research
Stem cell research can be used to help discover cures for different illnesses and cancers and may also be used to replace cells in cases of brain and spinal cord injuries. While stem cells can come from adult cells and cord cells, embryonic cells are at the center of controversy. Extracting cells from an embryo kills that embryo. The questions that must be answered when debating this topic are: Is an embryo a future human life? If so, does the greater good outweigh the taking of a future life?
Scientists have cloned sheep, mice, dogs, and other life forms, but they have yet to clone humans. Should humans be cloned? Cloning humans could help infertile couples have a child or create a child identical to a parent, give a human replacement body parts, or be used to test new drugs and medical procedures.
Many cities have banned smoking in public places. Should smoking cigarettes be banned in public places? Is secondhand smoke as big of a risk as we have been led to believe? These questions, along with health problems that come as a result of smoking, should be considered in a debate. With the introduction of vaping, arguments could examine if vaping should be treated as equal to smoking.
Previously known as global warming, proponents of the climate change debate argue humans have a major impact on the environment and climate. Those who speak against climate change contend the impact of humans is negligible and climate changes are part of a natural geological cycle. Some political leaders suggest that climate change is not even a reality. Does climate change exist and how does it affects the world?
Organic foods are created without the use of chemicals or synthetic ingredients. What, if any, are the health and environmental benefits that come from eating organic foods? Do the nutrition and safety benefits outweigh the extra cost? Central arguments might also explore the use of the word 'organic' in today's food market and its definitions. Is eating organic just a fad that has been capitalized upon or does it offer a real solution to problems like obesity and contaminated food products?
States such as California have legalized the use of marijuana for medical reasons. Should all states follow suit? The debate focuses on whether marijuana should be legal in medical cases or legal in all cases and what risks and benefits come from legalizing the drug. Consider exploring the attitude and policies regarding marijuana use in other countries as well as America. Is there enough research to support or oppose the legalization of marijuana? If it were legalized, what should be the stipulations and criteria for use or sale?
Does Technology Make People Lazy?
From cars that park themselves to Wi-Fi, technology is a standard fixture in the average American's life. Access to unlimited resources and the need to keep people educated as new technology comes out are the top reasons proponents say technology in enriching our lives. Opponents suggest people have become so dependent on technology, they are not using all of their brains regularly and are losing valuable skills from our history. Is technology doing more harm than good or the other way around?
Caffeine is a common ingredient in drinks available to children and adults. This stimulant is considered a drug by some because of the effects it has on the body. Other drugs like nicotine and alcohol have age requirements for consumption and purchase. Should caffeine be treated in the same way? Does the government have a responsibility to limit the ability of children to buy products containing caffeine or is this a parental decision?
Educational Debate Topics
School Internet Controls
Schools typically block inappropriate websites and websites that are not educational. Should schools limit what students are allowed to access? Is blocking content effective or will students just try to find a way to get around it and see what they are missing? Furthermore, do these controls infringe upon the ability of teachers to access valuable information in lesson planning or classes?
Proponents of school uniforms advocate uniforms improve discipline, academic performance, and social concerns. Those against the issue say uniforms violate a student's right to freedom of expression and harm students by not allowing them to show their individuality. The pros and cons of school uniforms have received much attention over the years.
Cellphone Use in School
Schools often ban cellphones to keep students focused in class. Should cellphones be banned in schools? The debate focuses on whether students should be allowed to have cellphones for cases of an emergency or if allowing cellphones can lead to cases of cheating, harassment, and general disruptions. If cellphone use is to be limited in schools, what measures are appropriate for schools to take in enforcing these rules?
Standardized tests determine whether students get into college, whether they get promoted to the next grade level, and whether schools are doing a good job of teaching. Can one test or series of standardized tests determine how smart a student is or how well a school is doing? Are there appropriate times to use a standardized test and age groups to use them with? Furthermore, how are standardized tests made and is this method accurate?
The debate over year-round school focuses on whether students who attend a year-round school retain more information and perform better academically than students who attend a traditional school. From boarding schools to summer school programming, there are a variety of ways school can be held over the course of an entire year. Is there evidence to suggest these kinds of programs work?
The push to make college more affordable for the average American is at the forefront of public conversation. In 2017 New York became the first state to pass a program making college free for hundreds of thousands. The Excelsior Scholarship allows students whose family income is under $125,000 to attend any CUNY or SUNY school for free as long as they live in New York State for a certain period after graduation. Is this model one to be imitated, or does it cause further problems for college students and tax payers? Is free tuition for all plausible and helpful to society?
The debate on whether or not school vouchers should be allowed has raged for decades, but thanks to the Trump Administration is at the forefront of educational news. Traditional vouchers were backed by state funding and allow parents of children in low-income families and failing school districts the opportunity to send their child to a different school at no cost to the family. Should state education funding be used at each parent's discretion, or should parents choosing private schools have to pay for their choice? Have school vouchers been proven as successful and how do they affect the rest of society? The underlying question here relates to freedom to choose a school and who should pay for that right.
Entertainment Debate Topics
The Influence of Television and Music
Whenever a teen gets pregnant, does drugs, uses foul language, or commits a crime, certain TV shows and popular songs usually get the blame. Do television and music have that great of an influence on teens? Are there specific types of shows and songs that are more impactful than others, or is it all bad? While television and music could be handled as separate issues in a debate, they can also be combined to look at the impact of the entertainment industry as a whole.
Violent Video Games
The debate over violent video games centers around whether kids and teens who regularly play violent video games are more prone to violence. Debaters should examine the definition of violence and whether limited time periods for play have a different effect. Are there differences across age groups? Should video game creators be required to follow certain regulations regarding what can or can't be seen in a game? Whose job is it to regulate video games, parents or game-makers?
Proponents of beauty pageants say they improve a girl's self-esteem and celebrate more than just beauty. Those against beauty pageants feel they promote an unhealthy body image, value looks over anything else, and portray young children in an inappropriately sexual manner. Are there specific types of pageants that do more harm than others? Is there a difference in the age of a pageant participant and the perception of her?
Cellphone Use While Driving
Many states have already banned texting while driving and some also have laws that do not allow drivers to talk on cellphones while driving without the use of a hands-free device. A debate over cellphone use should discuss what dangers come from using cellphones while driving and in what cases drivers may need to have access to cellphones. Plus, laws about cellphone use while driving should be examined for potential infringement on personal rights or if they have the greater good in mind.
Professional Athletes' and A-list Celebrities' Pay
Professional athletes and A-list celebrities get paid millions of dollars. Do they deserve to get paid as much as they do? Some propose they don't do enough to earn that money or the money could be put to much better use. Others think these people should be rewarded for their talent and have a right to the money that is made from their fan-base.
The YouTube Phenomenon
Thanks to social media platforms like YouTube, anyone and everyone can become famous for just about anything imaginable. Proponents suggest platforms like this enhance society because they make valuable resources available to anyone with access to the internet. Opponents might advocate the existence of YouTube de-emphasizes education, workforce, and an overall higher standard of expectations for what it means to be a contributing member of society. Should video-sharing apps and sites include boundaries for the sake of society's greater good?
Social Media Impact on Relationships
The original intent of social media platforms was to give people across the world a means of communicating easily. Now, with billions of users on hundreds of sites and apps, social media seems to be the preferred method of communication. Some would say social media has contributed to enhancing relationships by allowing people to share parts of their life with a larger group of people at one time. Others might say social media is actually anti-social at this point in time. How does social media affect relationships with people, is it helpful or harmful?
Other Resources for Debate Topics
If you still have trouble coming up with a topic for a debate, multiple organizations maintain extensive lists of debate topics, including those used in national competitions. These resources will also help locate facts and arguments to help prepare for the next debate.
- ProCon.org features a discussion of over 40 topics.
- Debate Central, created by the National Center for Policy Analysis, it features past debate topics and offers tips on debating.
- All About Popular Issues offers overviews of current issues that could be used as debate topics.
- The International Debate Education Association has a well-organized offering of hundreds of debate topics ranging, including issues in current events.
Choosing a Debate Topic
Whatever topic you choose to debate, make sure it is something you can form an argument for or against. The more passionate you are about a topic, the better the debate will be.