10 Interesting Debate Ideas to Improve Your ELLs Discussion

Before getting into the 10 debate ideas, let’s discuss a bit about how to set up this activity so that it’s both engaging and effective.

Duration: Varies

Type: Small Groups & Whole Group

What You’ll Need to Hold a Debate with Your ELLs


  • Debate Ideas
  • A Video of a Short Debate
  • Enough Small Square Pieces of Paper for Every Student
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Overview of Holding a Debate with Your ESL Students


Students choose a debate idea from a list of ideas you provide (See below). Each student receives a random piece of paper that either says “Agree” or “Disagree.”

Students prepare for the debate in small groups. Finally, the class holds a debate between the groups who disagree and the groups who agree.

How to Organize a Debate with Your ELLs


1. On small pieces of paper, write “agree” on half of the papers and “disagree” on half of the papers.

2. Prepare a list of controversial statements. (See below). They can be silly or serious. The point of the activity is to get students discussing, ideally using academic language. 

3. In class, read a few of the different controversial statements for students to choose from. Basically, go with the statement that gets the biggest reaction from your students.

4. Put students in small groups and pass out the pieces of paper so that half of the students agree and half disagree.

5. Watch a video of a short debate so that students can get a good idea of what they need to do.

6. Students prepare a few different things in their groups: opening remarks, a list of possible points the opposing side may make, a list of rebuttals to those points.

7. Come up with a list of ground rules as a class about how students believe everyone should behave during the debate. You may also want to come up with some consequences for anyone who breaks the agreed-upon rules.

10 Interesting Debate Ideas to Use with Your ELLs


1. All children should be required to learn a 2nd language.

2. Students should not have the summer off; they should continue in school year-round.

3. Teachers should not give homework.

4. Animal testing should be banned.

5. All students should be required to learn cooking.

6. We should send people to colonize Mars.

7. Children should not watch TV or play video games.

8. People should receive tickets for looking at their cell phones as they walk.

9. Everyone should be vegetarian.

10. Social media is harmful.

4 Extra Silly Debate Ideas to Use with Your ELLs


Just in case you’re looking for something a little less serious. You can still get students practicing solid academic language with these ideas.

1. All adults should have to walk around with a chicken on their heads.

2. Students should have to run to school, not take a bus.

3. We should change “Hi” to “You are awesome.”

4. Everyone should learn how to write with their feet as well as their hands.

Benefits of Holding Debates with Your English Learners


  • The most obvious and important benefit is the opportunity for your ELLs to get some challenging speaking practice using grade-level academic vocabulary and sentence structures.
  • Cooperation and Teamwork
  • Thinking critically about a topic. Debates can also help students think empathically since they are often required to debate from a side they don’t necessarily agree with.

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