85 Good Debate Topics for High and Middle Schoolers in 2023
March 29, 2023
What’s the most common phobia in the US? Snakes? Planes? Insects? Public speaking? Ding, ding, ding! If you chose the latter, you’re right on the money. According to this article from The Washington Post, 28% of responders fear public speaking above all else. While public speaking may be scary, it is a necessary and useful skill that benefits students in high school and beyond. One essential way for high schoolers to develop their public speaking skills is through the age-old activity of public forum debate, tackling hot-button debate topics from the use of ChatGPT on schoolwork to whether TikTok should be banned. (Fun fact: the art of debating dates back to the lessons of Socrates! How’s that for time-tested?)
Debate provides the perfect opportunity for all students to practice essential life skills such as conducting research, structuring logical and persuasive arguments, and learning how to grapple with complex current issues. Additionally, debate can help build confidence, foster collaboration with peers, and enable students to become well-informed members of society. And who knows? A successful high school career on the debate team might just inspire a future career in public policy, international relations, or law.
So, what does the ideal debate topic for a high school student look like? Great question! The ideal debate topic should have relevance to students’ lives, be complex enough to sustain a lively discussion, and have a wealth of supporting evidence and data for students to draw upon to support their claims.
Now that we’ve covered the essentials, let’s get into some great debate topics for high schoolers (and some debate topics for middle schoolers, as well!).
Education Debate Topics for High School
- Colleges should eliminate the use of standardized tests like the ACT and SAT for determining admissions.
- Schools should allow students to use ChatGPT when writing essays and completing assignments.
- All public schools should adopt a universal pass/fail grading system.
- School districts should allow their libraries to ban certain books.
- All students should have free access to higher education.
- Students should be allowed to wear pajamas to class.
- Students would benefit from a shorter school day.
- Schools should eliminate physical education requirements.
- The government should mandate that all students be required to take a financial literacy course prior to graduating.
- Schools should permit teachers to carry firearms for self-defense.
- Teachers should prohibit the use of cell phones during school hours.
Government Debate Topics for High School
- The government should lower the voting age to 16.
- The US should adopt a universal healthcare system.
- Censorship is sometimes justified in a democratic society.
- Hate speech should be protected under freedom of speech laws.
- The government should provide reparations for slavery and systemic racism.
- The US should implement a carbon tax to help combat climate change.
- The United States should take steps to disarm its nuclear arsenal.
- The US should abolish the electoral college and move to a popular vote system.
- The government should allow prisoners to vote.
- We should revise our penal system to focus on rehabilitation rather than punishment.
Science and Technology Debate Topics for High School
- It is the responsibility of social media companies to regulate hate speech on their platforms.
- The government should ban the use of facial recognition technology in public spaces.
- The government should hold social media companies responsible for overseeing the spread of misinformation on their platforms.
- The government should regulate the use of social media to protect user privacy.
- All social media companies should be required to disclose what user data they’re collecting, and how it’s being used.
- Social media is hindering our ability to form meaningful connections with others.
- There should be an age restriction on using social media sites.
- The government should create guidelines for AI regulation to prevent widespread job loss in the workplace.
- The government should have the power to regulate the content of online platforms such as TikTok and YouTube.
- Sites like Twitter and Reddit should do away with anonymous posting.
- Social media influencers should be required to disclose when the content they are promoting is sponsored.
Health and Bioethics Debate Topics for High School
- The use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports is never ethical.
- The use of GMOs should be banned from all agriculture.
- The cloning of humans is ethical.
- The government should legalize all drugs, and tax them as it does cigarettes and alcohol.
- Pharmacies should sell birth control over the counter.
- We should ban animal testing for medical research.
- Authorities should prohibit doctors from prescribing placebos to patients.
- The US should legalize physician-assisted suicide.
- We should require genetic testing for all newborns.
- Patients should have the right to refuse medical treatments.
- The government should regulate the use of pesticides and other chemicals in agriculture.
- The government should mandate vaccines.
- The US should invest more in renewable energy resources to combat climate change.
Business Debate Topics for High School
- The government should increase the minimum wage.
- Universal basic income is necessary for a fair society.
- The government should ban unpaid internships.
- The government should regulate cryptocurrencies as they do other monies.
- The government should provide incentives for companies to hire more women and minorities.
- Companies should be required to disclose their gender pay gap.
- The U.S. should adopt a flat tax system.
- Companies’ boards should meet a set diversity quota.
- All companies that are able should transition to a work-from-home model.
- The government should provide financial incentives for companies to go green.
- We should require companies to provide at least three months of paid parental leave to their employees, regardless of gender.
- The government should force companies to disclose their carbon footprint.
Pop Culture Debate Topics for High School
- Reality TV portrays a distorted version of reality.
- Binge-watching TV shows is harmful to our mental health.
- Video games should have restrictions on the content they portray.
- Cosplay is a form of cultural appropriation.
- It is unethical for actors to play characters of different races and ethnicities.
- Award shows like the Oscars should have a diversity quota they must meet.
- Cancel culture is doing more harm than good.
- Celebrities should be held to a higher standard of behavior than the general population.
- Rap music is a positive influence on society.
Fun Debate Topics
- It is better to be well-versed in multiple topics than a specialist in one.
- Emojis should be allowed in formal correspondence.
- It is better to have the power of teleportation than that of invisibility.
- Exclamation points have become overused in text and email.
- Fast food restaurants should have a mandatory vegan option.
- Natural talent is more important for success than hard work.
- Cereal is technically a kind of soup.
- Pineapples belong on pizza.
- Marvel is a better superhero franchise than DC.
- Toilet paper should be rolled over, rather than under.
Debate Topics for Middle School
- USDA regulators should ban junk food from school cafeterias.
- School should take place year-round.
- Schools should permit students to select classes based on their individual interests, rather than require all students to take the same classes.
- Schools should require students to complete a set number of volunteer hours in order to graduate.
- Single-gender schools are better than co-ed ones.
- The US should raise the driving age to 18.
- Children should earn a fixed amount for doing chores.
- Students should grade their teachers, too.
- Video games are a useful learning tool.
I’ve got my topic, now what?
Once you’ve selected your debate topic, it’s time to prepare. Preparation for a debate involves some key steps, all of which are necessary to ensuring your argument is as sound and convincing as possible.
Putting Together a Successful Debate Argument, Step by Step
1) Conduct your research.
Read widely and smartly. As you go, take organized notes, marking down the sources of each—these will be pivotal later, when you’re building your argument and require points of reference.
2) Organize your thoughts in a coherent manner.
Using the data you’ve collected, create an argument that progresses logically. To help your listeners follow along, use signposts to indicate the direction your claim is headed. (Think of this as building your hypothesis. “In this argument, I will cover points A, B, and C.”) You should be able to articulate your position in a single, simple sentence.
3) Write out what you want to say.
Make a bullet point list that outlines the main points of your stance. For each bullet point, try to include the key pieces of evidence that support your claim. Once you have that, see if you can summarize the bullet point using a single word or phrase. This way, when you’re in the heat of the moment, you can glance down and use that phrase to spark your memory.
4) Anticipate what your opponents might say.
This is essential to crafting a foolproof argument. Try to look at the debate from the opposing team’s side. If you were arguing from their side, what points would you make? What is the rational counterargument to your claim, and how can you refute it? Where possible, you want to preclude any chance your opponent might have of catching you off-guard.
Run through what you want to say, and run through it again. Get out the tape recorder if it helps, and listen to yourself back. Does your argument make sense? Practice for speed, clarity, and flow. Memorization will help you get rid of any jitters you might have in the moment.
Good Debate Topics—Final Thoughts
In conclusion, debate is an excellent way for high schoolers to hone their communication skills. By implementing the strategies outlined here, students will be better prepared to tackle debates with confidence, assured that they’ve put in the work to convey their ideas effectively and with success.