Debate topics in literature for student-driven discussions on novels

Students who develop an appreciation for literature are better prepared to both meet literacy standards and reap the benefits of reading for pleasure. But it’s not always easy for students to engage with books when there are so many louder and shinier forms of media vying for their attention.

Creating an authentic purpose for students’ reading — such as contributing to a discussion — can help to overcome these obstacles. Class discussions are a great way of promoting deeper engagement with a text.

Rather than simply searching for “the right answer,” students are encouraged to interpret, analyze, and critically respond to open-ended questions about the story. This promotes higher-level thinking and a sense of ownership over their own learning.

To aid you in facilitating meaningful discussions, we’re constantly adding debate topics in literature in our Topic Library. These are ready-to-go Kialo discussions, but can also serve as a jumping-off point for a literature circle or another in-class activity. Here’s a selection from our ever-growing collection!

Debate topics in literature for elementary students

Debate the ethics of Jack’s actions in “Jack and the Beanstalk”

Anthropologists have traced the origins of “Jack and the Beanstalk” to a folk tale over 5,000 years old, making this truly a timeless classic!

Younger students familiar with the story — whichever version they’ve read — can debate the ethics of Jack’s behavior with this Topic Template. Was Jack right to steal from the giant? Does the giant’s cruelty make Jack’s theft acceptable? And should Jack have thought about the danger to others when he angered the giant?

In “Jack and the Beanstalk,” was Jack right to steal from the giant?

Explore and discuss morality in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Matilda

Roald Dahl’s much-beloved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a great text for younger learners to discuss character, motivation, and moral ambiguity. Is Willy Wonka a kind man, or a cruel one? Have your students debate the goodness of Willy Wonka’s heart with this Topic Template.

In “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” was Willy Wonka good at heart?

If your class are bigger fans of Matilda than Charlie, why not have them tackle this conundrum: Which of Matilda’s parents is the worst?

Debate topics in literature for middle and high school students

Have students dive deeper into the ethics of revolution in Animal Farm

George Orwell’s political allegory Animal Farm is a rich text for holding classroom discussions, using its simple story to tackle world-historical themes. Lead students in a debate about the ethics of revolution versus reform through Orwell’s unique pastoral frame by discussing whether the animals should ever have rebelled against Mr. Jones.

Should the animals of “Animal Farm” have ever revolted against Jones?

Alternatively, address the issue of elite privilege by asking whether the pigs in Animal Farm deserved their special treatment. This Topic Template was the winning submission in our May 2023 Topic Templates Tournament!

Discuss how human nature is presented in Lord of the Flies

Since its publication, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies has been heralded as a warning about the dark proclivities of human nature. But is Golding’s pessimism justified, or does he ignore the ability of humans to work together? Consider whether the novel is an accurate representation of human nature in this discussion.

Does “Lord of the Flies” present an accurate picture of human nature?

Encourage perspective-taking in The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tale of the Roaring Twenties, The Great Gatsby, unfolds from the perspective of its first-person narrator, Nick Carraway. But should readers take Carraway at his word, or is his retelling colored by his bias towards the other characters? Engage students in a spirited debate about unreliable narrators and authorial intention.

Is Nick Carraway a reliable narrator in “The Great Gatsby”?

Challenge and defend Jane Eyre as a feminist novel

Charlotte Brontë — along with sisters Emily and Anne — was a trailblazer for women in literature, presenting stories of complex female characters with rich internal lives. But the eponymous protagonist of Jane Eyre still clings to Victorian mores, learning to bite her tongue and seeking fulfillment through marriage.

Does this tarnish the novel’s feminist credentials, or should it be celebrated as a feminist triumph?

Is “Jane Eyre” a feminist novel?

How you use our Kialo Topic Templates is up to you. They are completely customizable templates that can be used to hold standalone online discussions or as support for in-class, oral activities. You can always create your own Kialo Discussion from scratch, and even have students create discussions for their classmates.

If you’ve had an invigorating literary discussion on Kialo Edu, we’d love to hear from you! Contact us at or reach out to us on social media.

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