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Lesson idea: Debating sex selection

We take you step by step through running a debate about sex selection in the classroom

This is a whole-class activity designed to enable sixth-form students to participate in a debate to explore the scientific issues behind sex selection and the ethical arguments for and against it. The activity is based on the format of the Debating Matters Competition, a national debating competition for sixth-form students. To find out more, visit the Debating Matters website.

Learning outcome

After participating in the debate students will understand the scientific issues involved in sex selection and will be able to evaluate the ethical arguments for and against it. Students will be in a position to write a short essay expressing their views backed with appropriate evidence.



By the end of the activity, students should have had an opportunity to develop their skills in:

  • structuring and presenting a coherent argument by taking part in a debate and then reflecting on how best to present ideas in a debate situation
  • engaging with the views of others through speaking, listening and responding appropriately.


Students should have developed their awareness and understanding of:

  • the latest scientific developments in reproductive technologies and the potential uses and limitations of these technologies
  • the social and ethical implications of sex selection, including who would be affected, and how, by decisions on the use of reproductive technologies for this purpose.

Activity overview

The debate motion is: “Parents should be allowed to use the latest reproductive technologies to choose the sex of their children.”

  • All of the resources listed below are available from the downloadable resources section at the bottom of this page.
  • The debate has been designed to be completed within a one-hour lesson.
  • It also requires 20 minutes of a prior lesson to introduce the activity and an hour-long homework exercise to be completed by the students.
  • You may wish to consider using two hour-long lessons instead.

Student briefing

Twenty minutes of a prior lesson are required to introduce the debate. Students will need copies of the homework sheet and topic guide, which are available to download below.

Since the activity assumes a basic understanding of the biological determinants of sex, you may also want to encourage students to refer to a standard biology textbook.


  • Homework sheet: This gives the debate motion and outlines sources of information for research.
  • Topic guide: Includes background information on the science of sex selection, the legal situation and the different perspectives adopted in the debate.

Ten minutes

  • Teacher: Introduce the topic of sex selection through a question and answer session. Aim to elicit what students know of the topic and gauge some initial opinions.
  • Students: Respond to questions. Think of questions to ask. Engage in discussion.

Five minutes

  • Teacher: Introduce the concept of debate and the roles needed for the debate to be successful. Emphasise that everyone in the class will be expected to have background knowledge that will give them the opportunity to participate. Allocate or allow students to nominate themselves for specific roles (see below).
  • Students: Volunteer for or consider particular roles in the debate.

Five minutes

  • Teacher: Emphasise the importance of research for the quality of debate. Introduce the homework activity – to research arguments relevant to the roles in the debate. Distribute the homework sheet and topic guide. Inform the students of the resources available on the internet that they will need to access (see below).
  • Students: Read through the homework sheet and become familiar with the topic guide.

Roles in the debate

The aim is to ensure that everyone in the class has the opportunity to participate. You can vary the number of students who take part as debaters.

  • Debaters: Two teams of two or three students. One team argues for the motion and the other team argues against the motion. Each student will make a 90-second opening presentation to state their point of view and then respond to questions from the audience.
  • Audience members: Audience members pose questions to the debaters and offer their opinions. At the end of the debate, audience members are invited to comment on how they think the debaters performed.


The homework activity requires students to have internet access in order to carry out research into the science and ethics of sex selection. In addition to reading the topic guide, students should make use of the opinion pieces, which include short audio clips and articles by key figures in the sex selection debate, as well as the ‘Sex and Gender’ issue of ‘Big Picture’. A guide to the sources for research is given on the students’ homework sheet.

The classroom debate

The classroom debate takes one hour. The debate requires no specific resources, although it is very helpful to use a room in which the furniture can be easily moved and to have a stopwatch. The two teams of debaters should sit at the front of the room, ideally with the audience forming a semicircle in front of them.

The debate begins with opening presentations from the debaters arguing for and against the motion. These are followed by questions from the audience and then the debaters’ final remarks. At the end of the debate, audience members are invited to comment on the performance of the debaters. This provides another opportunity to involve all members of the class. Audience members can comment on the strengths and weaknesses of the ways in which the debaters presented their ideas, on whether they were convinced by these arguments, and on whether this led them to change their views. 

Five minutes

  • Teacher: Organise students into groups – two teams of debaters and a number of groups of audience members. Ask the groups to discuss among themselves the arguments or questions that they will use in the debate.
  • Students: In groups, students are to compare notes, check through their questions and rehearse their arguments. 

Ten minutes

  • Teacher: Chair the debate and monitor times. Direct debaters to speak in the order – first speaker for the motion – first speaker against the motion – second speaker for the motion – second speaker against the motion.
  • Students: Each debater has 90 seconds to make their opening presentation.

Five minutes

  • Teacher: Take the first round of questions from the audience.
  • Students: Five or six students should express their opinions and ask their questions, raising any concerns or uncertainties they have about the topic.

Five minutes

  • Teacher: Return to the debaters to answer the audience questions – students may need encouraging to grapple with difficult issues at this stage.
  • Students: The teams of debaters take turns to respond to the audience questions and the views expressed by the other team, identifying the question or questions that they are responding to.

Ten minutes

  • Teacher: Return to the audience for a second round of questions. The remaining students should express their opinions and ask their questions. Return to the panel of debaters, who should answer the audience questions and make their final remarks – remind students at this stage that a vote will be taken as to which team had the most persuasive arguments.
  • Students: The teams of debaters take turns to respond to audience questions and then make their final remarks, speaking in the same order as for their opening presentations. 

Ten minutes

  • Teacher: Take feedback from the audience followed by a class vote.
  • Students: All students have the opportunity to comment on the debate generally, the performance of the debaters and the persuasiveness of the arguments. They then participate in a class vote for or against the motion.

Five minutes

  • Teacher: Chair a whole-class plenary and promote wider opportunities for debate.
  • Students: Contribute to a discussion on the usefulness of the debate, what they have learned and ideas for future debating opportunities.

Optional extension activity

The main activity can be followed up by asking students to write short essays giving their views on the issue.

Lead image: CC BY

Downloadable resources

About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Sex and Gender’ in October 2014.

Genetics and genomics, Statistics and maths, History, Health, infection and disease
Sex and Gender
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development