Academic Debates

Debates for academic English students. This webpage discusses what is a debate, how to run a debate and practice debate questions.

Debates in academic English

What is a debate?

A debate is, basically, a for or against argument. You have to debate why your position is correct and why your opponents’ are wrong. You are allocated a time to present your arguments and add rebuttals to the opposing points. You need to support your ideas with evidence such as facts, figures, stats and sources.

The topic                                                                                                

The topic is often current issues of public importance (‘Climate change should be taken more seriously’) or about general philosophies or ideas (‘beauty is better than brains’). The team that agrees with the topic is called the AFFIRMATIVE and the team that disagrees with the topic is called the NEGATIVE (or the opposition). 

The set up

Usually, the debate consists of two teams of three speakers. There should be a time-keeper and a judge(s) (sometimes this is the audience). Each presenter has a specific time (4 minutes) to present ideas and their rebuttals and after each presenter has spoken, the judge(s) evaluates the debate on the basis of the content, style and strategy of speeches.


                      A Basic Debate [4 minutes per person]

First Speaker Affirmative

Definition / keywords.

Introduces team’s argument.

                                                [time keeper rings bell once at 3 minutes & twice at 4 minutes = time up]                                             


Second Speaker Negative

Defines keywords / terms.

Introduces team’s argument.


[‘rebuttal’ means choose a point from the opposite team and prove why this is wrong]

Third Speaker Affirmative / Fourth Speaker Negative

Continue arguments and rebuttals.

Fifth Speaker Affirmative / Sixth Speaker Affirmative

Rebut opposition’s debate & summarises their key points.

The adjudicators / judges decide who won the debate.


The teams thank each other.

 Debate Language Phrases

Debate Phrases Sheet: a range of standard English phrases 

Suitable phrases to use when opening, building a case, summarising, rebuttals, rejecting, accepting and finishing statements.

Free Download


Top Debate Tips from Wellesley College

The Wellesley College Debate Society offers a helpful list of the top tips you want to utilize in a debate. Watch this video to learn the best ways to prepare for, and successfully perform during a debate.

An introduction to debates

Introduction to Debates (new 2023)

This lesson is designed to introduce students to debating. It contains information on debate procedures, a ‘top tips’ listening worksheet, debate signposting phrases and a range of debate questions. Example. Level: ***** [B1/B2/C1] TEACHER MEMBERSHIP / INSTITUTIONAL MEMBERSHIP


Debate Questions

 Debate Topics

Public importance  (this list is constantly updated Sept 2023)

  1. Can terrorism be prevented?
  2. Was Brexit economic suicide?
  3. Should developed countries provide aid to developing countries devastated by hurricanes?
  4. Should the US go to war against North Korea?
  5. Is Facebook too big to prevent grooming?
  6. Is nuclear energy the best investment for power in the UK?
  7. Can immigration from Africa to Europe be restricted?
  8. Are university vice-principals over-paid?
  9. Will white-supremacy ever be out-lawed?
  10. Should one-use plastics be banned?


  1. Does life exist on other planets?
  2. Is America’s ‘War on Terror’ justifiable?
  3. Does the death penalty prevent crime?
  4. Are single-sex schools better?
  5. Is cloning ethical?
  6. Is euthanasia justified?
  7. Does technology make us more alone?
  8. Do violent video games lead to violence?
  9. Can money buy happiness?
  10. Should Higher Education be free?
  11. Is it ethical to eat meat?
  12. Can politicians be trusted?
  13. Is world peace achievable?
  14. Is CCTV an invasion of privacy?
  15. Can the news media be trusted in providing unbiased news reporting?
  16. Are we becoming too dependent on Google?
  17. Is gender inequality still prevalent?
  18. Should we colonize Mars?


Debate Questions: twenty eight debate questions 

 Here is a range of debating question based around two topics of ‘public concern’ and ‘general’ debates. 

Free Download


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