By the time they reach seventh grade, students are old enough to understand some of the serious issues that affect the adult world. Assigning such topics for debate ensures that students grasp the basic viewpoints and why each side feels as they do. Students who are educated about more than one side of a debate will be better able to determine their own beliefs as they mature.
Topics related to religious views include prayer in school, evolution versus creation and the role of religion in government. Many other topics may not be specifically religious, but at least one side argues predominantly from a religious viewpoint -- these topics include abortion, euthanasia and homosexuality. Be aware that these topics have the potential to incite high emotion and controversy among both students and their families. Some parents may prefer that their children not debate topics such as homosexuality at this age.
The government’s approach to social problems forms the basis for many debate topics. Civil rights legislation like affirmative action; entitlement programs like welfare; gun control, children’s rights, capital punishment and the pledge of allegiance are all fertile ground for debate. You may have to help your students narrow the topic. “Poverty” is not specific enough, as no one will wish to argue for poverty. Ask questions like, “Does welfare cause poverty or help it?”
Many intriguing debates can arise from considering questions facing the environmental community today. Global warming, fossil fuels, pollution, animal rights and population control all fall under this general purview. Have your students debate the merits of alternate energy sources, the ethics of animal-product testing or whether it’s right for the government to impose rules on how many children you can have. Specific environmental legislation currently being debated on the state or national level is an excellent topic.
Issues for Kids
If all of this seems a little heavy for a seventh grader, consider issues closer to home, such as, “Cell phones should be allowed in schools.” Or, “algebra should not be required for high school graduation.” Debate the pros and cons of beauty pageants, of fast-food warning labels or of athletes as role models. Any of these still require research and critical thinking, while keeping the topics age appropriate and of immediate interest to your students.