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Home > News and views > 8 debating games for primary and secondary school students

8 debating games for primary and secondary school students

debating games for school students

From our public speaking competitions to our in-school workshops like Discover Your Voice, we know the importance of oracy in the classroom. If you’re teaching students debating, you probably need to find ways to engage them before diving in. Here’s a list of tried-and-tested debating games that our facilitators and mentors use in primary and secondary school classrooms to get students thinking. 

All the best debating games for students 

1) If I Ruled the World 

Stand in a circle with the students. Explain that the game works by each student stating: ‘If I ruled the world…’ and finishing the statement. The student to the left should question the statement with: ‘Why?’ The initial student will then explain why they would do this. 

Example: ‘If I ruled the world, I would make the weekend four days long.’ 

‘Why?’ 

‘Because then everyone could spend more time with their friends and families and relax.’ 

The game should then proceed around the circle until all the students have had a turn. This is one of the best debating games for beginners.

2) Cross the Circle if… 

Get the students to form a seated circle. There should be one fewer seat than the number of participants. Standing in the middle, give a statement, starting ‘Cross the circle if…’ that students can either agree or disagree with. As the rules are being learnt, start with simple verifiable facts such as ‘… if you have brown hair’ or ‘… if your name starts with a letter in the first half of the alphabet’.  

When a student agrees with the statement, they should stand up and ‘cross the circle’, finding a new seat from one which has been vacated. The facilitator should also take a seat and the student left standing then begins the next round with a statement of their own.  

debating games for students

3) I Couldn’t Disagree More

Give students a statement and ask them to give all the reasons why they disagree with it. Make sure that the statements are absolute but difficult to disagree with. 

Examples: 

  • I believe that we should never hurt animals 
  • I believe that lying is always wrong  
  • I believe that war is never justified
  • Fruit is always healthy 
  • We should always obey the law

4) Make it Sound Good, Make it Sound Bad 

Divide the students into small groups, and give each pair of groups a ‘neutral’ statement (e.g. ‘London is a big city’, or ‘Birds can fly’). Ask one team in each pair to present the statement to the group so it sounds good (‘London is a big, multicultural, thriving city’), and the other to present it so it sounds bad (‘London is a big, dangerous, noisy city’). 

5) Stranded on a Desert Island

Get students to form pairs. Let them know that they are all going on holiday. Pupils should select one thing that they would pack, and then tell their partner. 

Let them know that they are all going to travel by boat. Get them to imagine that they are on a ship in the middle of a big ocean when suddenly there is a huge storm and the boat sinks. It’s a complete disaster! Luckily, there is a desert island nearby. They must swim to safety, but they can only choose one of their two items to take them with them to bring to the island until they are they rescued. Ask a few pairs to feedback to the group on their decisions. 

student drawing on whiteboard

6) Million Pound Top Trumps

Set the scene: The government has announced that there is a million pounds of extra money available to be spent in the local region. Students will represent different advocacy groups with proposals on how to spend this money. 

Give each student or group of students a proposal like the ones on the list below. 

  • More teachers 
  • Build a new park with a football pitch/athletics track 
  • Put on local events e.g. music festivals or fairs 
  • Free entry to local leisure centre/swimming pool
  • More nurses
  • Increased city centre parking
  • Reduce income tax
  • Every school age student gets a musical instrument
  • More bike lanes
  • More money for libraries so they can stay open/have more staff or facilities
  • More support for homeless people 

Round 1 – In this round, each group will write and deliver a short speech (no longer than one minute) about why their proposed spending is best within a certain category. So, for example, those advocating ‘spending on more nurses’ might want to argue that their proposal would ‘save most lives’; students arguing for ‘providing increased city centre parking’ might claim that their proposal would ‘boost the economy most’. 

While they don’t need to compare with every other proposal, they should be comparative with at least some. You may wish to begin by making a mind-map of possible ‘trump’ categories on the board. 

Round 2 – Each proposal may be best at something, but this doesn’t yet allow us to choose which is best overall. 

In this round, the advocacy groups will need to argue that their policy should be selected by the government. They will have to argue not only that they are better than the others at something, but also explain why that means that overall, they are best choice for spending. For example, someone defending ‘more nurses’ might suggest that ‘saving more lives’ is more important than ‘boosting the economy most’. 

Again, give students some time to write these speeches. 

You can immediately decide a winner by a vote after Round 2. If you prefer, you can select the top two proposals and have a final round where they must argue directly against each other in a final pair of speeches. 

7) Sales Game

Have students form small groups. Give each student an object (e.g. a pen, a pair of sunglasses, a phone charger). Within the small groups, students should convince others that they should ‘buy’ their object. 

When each group has a winner, you can have a further round in front of the class to find an overall winning object. 

8) Balloon Debate

Have four to six student volunteers come to the front of the class. Each one should choose a person that they will play during this game. You may want to restrict them using a theme, e.g. ‘famous people from history’ or ‘characters from Harry Potter. 

Set the scene: all these people are in a balloon, but it is leaking. To save themselves, they will have to throw someone overboard! 

Each student will give a 30-second explanation of why their character should be allowed to stay in the balloon, using a point and an explanation. After these arguments, the rest of the students should vote on who should be thrown out of the balloon. This can be repeated until only one person remains in the balloon. 

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