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36 Public Policy Questions to Energize Your Government/History Classroom Debates




Social Studies
--- Civics
--- Current Events
--- Government
--- Debate Topics


  • 6-8
  • 9-12

Brief Description

If you are looking for a quick and easy way to begin class and/or spark student discussion and debate, these activity ideas are for you. Included: Thirty-six open-ended questions relating to public policy issues that are in the news and, even better, important to students.


Students will

  • engage in discussion and debate relating to issues of importance to them and the world.
  • think critically as they analyze public policy issues.
  • examine issues from all sides/perspectives.


    debate, public policy, issues, critical thinking

    Materials Needed


    The Lesson

    Using debates in the classroom is a proven strategy for engaging students and developing critical thinking skills. Debates can take many formats and cover many topics. Following are 36 classroom-friendly topics. You might

  • challenge students to research the topics and be ready to offer informed opinions.
  • arrange students into small groups to stage debates on a selection of the topics.
  • use some of the debate strategies in the Education World article Its Up for Debate. Those debate strategies include
  • Lincoln-Douglas Debate Format
  • Role Play Debate
  • Using Fairy Tales to Debate Ethics
  • Four Corners Debate
  • Inner Circle, Outer Circle Debate
  • Three-Card Debate Strategy
  • Participation Countdown Strategy
  • Tag Team Debate
  • Fishbowl Debate
  • Think-Pair-Share Debate
  • Focus Discussions Strategy

    36 Public Policy Questions to Energize
    Your Classroom and Engage Students in Debate

    • Is the Confederate Flag a symbol of heritage or a symbol of hate?
    • Should Native American nicknames/mascots be banned from high school, college, and professional sports teams?
    • Should Supreme Court members be elected by the people instead of appointed by the President [with Senate approval]?
    • Should the Federal Government be allowed to regulate Major League Baseball [and other professional leagues] by enacting uniform penalties for steroid use?
    • Should the practice of physician-assisted suicide be allowed?
    • Is file-sharing a crime and should those who share files and those who create file-sharing software be criminally prosecuted?
    • It is currently a law that you can be forbidden Federally subsidized students loans for college [such as Stafford and Perkins loans] if you have a prior conviction for drug use, drug possession, or drug dealing. Do you think that this should remain a law?
    • Many states have hate crime legislation. Under such laws, crimes motivated solely because of someones race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation are given stiffer and mandatory penalties. How do you feel about those types of laws?
    • Should the Federal, State, and Local governments rebuild the New Orleans area and encourage people to return in large numbers?
    • Is it good policy for schools to ban the sale of soft drinks, candy, and other questionably nutritious snacks in order to promote better eating habits?
    • How do you feel about the rise of gated, police-monitored communities? Should they be allowed or should construction of those types of communities be stopped?
    • What are your opinions regarding beach-front property and private beaches? Should all beaches be public to allow access to the ocean, or do you believe that some beaches can be bought for private use?
    • As a means to preventing terrorist activity, do you have a problem with the Federal government having access to your e-mail account, library records, and other personal information?
    • Should it be legal to give the death penalty to someone who commits a crime as a minor [under 18 years old]?
    • A much higher percentage of Australians (88 percent) vote in elections than Americans (about 50%). Many believe that this is due to the fact that Australians who do not vote must pay a fine, typically $20. Should the United States enact similar measures?
    • Some have proposed that the Federal government should set an age restriction [21 years old] on when a person can apply for a credit card. Do you believe that this legislation should be passed?
    • Should taxpayers finance the building of a light-rail system to lesson traffic in our major cities?
    • Are todays video games too violent and/or sexually provocative?
    • Should the United States adopt English as its official language?
    • Do you believe that the government should do more to limit immigration [legal and/or illegal] from Mexico, or should we just open the border?
    • Should the Electoral College be outlawed and replaced with a system where the Presidential candidate with the most votes is elected?
    • Are professional athletes overpaid, or is this simply a situation where highly skilled and scarce athletes are paid according to supply and demand?
    • Are race relations better or worse than they were before the 1960s?
    • What is your opinion about Wal-Mart? Does Wal-Mart represent all that is good about capitalism or all that is wrong about capitalism?
    • Should the United States attempt to spread the principles of democracy throughout the World, or should we let the other countries of the World decide for themselves?
    • Should drug companies be forced to limit the price of potentially life-saving drugs so the average person can afford them?
    • Are television and/or print advertisements exploitative in nature? Do they take advantage of consumers?
    • Should makers of unhealthy foods targeting children be forced to change packaging that attracts young people?
    • Should there be a Constitutional amendment that allows naturalized citizens to be president or vice president?
    • Some shopping malls across the United States are not allowing people under age 18 to enter on Friday and Saturday nights without parental supervision. What are your opinions regarding that policy?
    • As a means to combating obesity, should the United States enact a fat tax on fast food and other unhealthy foods?
    • As a way to curb drunk driving, should all cars have breathalyzer machines installed? (Some legislators in New York have proposed this requirement.)
    • Should public companies (those whose stock is publicly traded) have to disclose the pay and total compensation of their CEOs and other high-ranking officials?
    • In your opinion, should September 11th be made a national holiday or national day of mourning?
    • What is your opinion regarding merit pay for teachers? When students do well on standardized tests, should the teachers of those students receive merit-based raises?
    • Should standardized tests [SAT, ACT] continue to be used as a measurement of student achievement and an important part of the college admission process?

    Submitted By

    Michael Boyer, Providence Day School in Charlotte, North Carolina

    Education World®
    Copyright © 2007 Education World