If you’re looking for thought-provoking novels to pair with your argumentative unit, look no further! These 10 novels and essay topics from Lesa Smith are sure to get your middle schoolers thinking (and writing!) about some big ideas.

thought-provoking novels for your argumentative unit

Do you have an argumentative unit that needs some freshening up? Why not consider pairing some thought-provoking novels with argumentative activities? Middle schoolers have no shortage of opinions, so joining together an argumentative unit with some thought-provoking novels may be a natural fit!

Whether you’re leading a full-class novel study, supporting literature circles with several thematic novel options, or even encouraging independent reading choices, there are lots of options to combine your current structure with an argumentative unit! 

Here are 10 novels with suggested essay topics that are sure to get your students thinking (and writing!) about some big ideas.

The One & Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

Ivan is a captive gorilla who lives in a cage in a shopping mall; he makes friends with a newly-arrived baby elephant named Ruby. This prompts Ivan to question his treatment and that of other animals. Ivan sets out to make a difference in his life and that of other animals in order to find a place where they can really belong.

  • Essay Prompt 1: Should animals ever be kept in captivity? OR Should zoos or circuses with animals exist?
  • Essay Prompt 2: Is it better to trust your instincts or to stick with logic?
  • Essay Prompt 3: Is watching television helpful or harmful for children? Should there be limits on screentime for kids?
using the one and only ivan in your argumentative unit

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit

Set in a small town in the late-1800s, 10-year-old Winnie meets Jesse Tuck. Tuck is immortal – currently 104 – as a result of the spring in the woods. Things get complicated and Winnie must decide whether to keep the Tucks’ secret or not. The novels’ topics include immortality as well as the importance or complications of friendship and family relationships.

  • Essay Prompt 1: Is immortality (living forever) a good thing?
  • Essay Prompt 2: Is there ever a good reason to break the law (or to do something that you know is wrong)?
  • Essay Prompt 3: Should people keep secrets or is telling the truth always the right thing to do?
using tuck everlasting in your argumentative unit

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

In a post-apocalyptic world, there’s an annual competition called the Hunger Games where pairs of teens from 12 districts in the country of Panem compete to win in a brutal televised competition. The goal is to be the victor and lone survivor; however, Katniss Everdeen, the ‘tribute’ from District 12, changes that plan with her actions in the Games. 

  • Essay Prompt 1: Is The Hunger Games a commentary on our real world or a warning for the future?
  • Essay Prompt 2: Should the government be allowed to use propaganda?
  • Essay Prompt 3: Should people be allowed to protest against the government?
using the hunger games in your argumentative unit

Ban This Book by Alan Gratz

Amy, the protagonist of the novel, stands up for her right to read books in her school library. She faces pushback from the school administration and wider community. As the novel unfolds, Amy learns about censorship, the power of books, and her abilities to stand up for what she believes in.

  • Essay Prompt 1: Should people be allowed to ban books?
  • Essay Prompt 2: Is censorship ever acceptable or ethical?
  • Essay Prompt 3: Should students be allowed to read whatever they want?
using ban this book in your argumentative unit

Refugee by Alan Gratz

Gratz’s 2017 novel is a coming-of-age story told from three different points of view. First is Josef who boards a ship with his family to escape 1930s Nazi Germany. Next is Isabel who sets out on a raft with her family to evade Cuba’s instability in the early 1990s. And finally, there is Mahmoud who sets out for Europe in 2015 to escape violence in Syria. Each story is harrowing in its portrayal of seeking safety in another country. 

  • Essay Prompt 1: Do countries have a responsibility to accept refugees?
  • Essay Prompt 2: Is there ever a justification for war?
  • Essay Prompt 3: Are individuals (always) responsible for their own actions?
using refugee in your argumentative unit

The Giver by Lois Lowry 

This 1993 novel is, dare I say, a classic. With its utopian mask for a dystopian world, the novel follows 12-year-old Jonas, who is set to become the Receiver of Memory. It explores themes of conformity and individualism that make for great subjects of discussion related to population control, personal freedom, assignment jobs/spouses, and more!

  • Essay Prompt 1: Is the society in The Giver utopian or dystopian?
  • Essay Prompt 2: Is it better to have a society based on conformity or diversity?
  • Essay Prompt 3: Should people have the right to self-determination or free will?
using the giver in your argumentative unit

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

This novel tells the story of a young man named Cole Matthews who is sent to a remote island in Alaska as part of rehabilitation plan for his violent behaviour. While there, Cole encounters a spirit bear and received guidance from Indigenous elders that helps him to take responsibility for his actions and to forgive others, including his abusive father. 

  • Essay Prompt 1: Is wilderness therapy a good idea for (troubled) teens?
  • Essay Prompt 2: Do you have to forgive someone in order to move on in your personal journey?
  • Essay Prompt 3: Should authors be allowed to write about identities (gender, race, culture) that are not their own? What responsibilities do authors have to avoid cultural appropriation?
using touching spirit bear in your argumentative unit

Ghost by Jason Reynolds

Castle Cranshaw, nicknamed Ghost, joins his school’s track team as a way to avoid the challenges he’s facing in life. As the story unfolds, Ghost learns valuable lessons and finds the courage to take control of his future. 

  • Essay Prompt 1: Does competition bring people together or pull them apart?
  • Essay Prompt 2: Should physical education classes or extracurricular activities be required in school?
  • Essay Prompt 3: Are professional athletes paid too much?
using ghost in your argumentative unit

Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

This coming of age novel follows several middle-school students in Washington, DC as they head in (literal and figurative) different directions after school. The interconnected stories focus on a variety of issues including family,bullying, homophobia, racism, challenges of growing up, and more. 

  • Essay Prompt 1: Is the novel an accurate representation of the life of a middle schooler?
  • Essay Prompt 2: Do people have a responsibility to stand up for others?
  • Essay Prompt 3: Can young people change the world?
using look both ways in your argumentative unit

Other Words for Home by Jasmine Warga

This novel in verse tells the story of Jude, a young Muslim girl, who moves to Cincinnati, Ohio with her family in order to escape the Syrian Civil War. Once in the US, Jude struggles to adapt to “American” life but makes considerable effort while trying to remain true to herself in the process. 

  • Essay Prompt 1: Can racism (or Islamaphobia) be solved or overcome?
  • Essay Prompt 2: Is there ever a justification for war?
  • Essay Prompt 3: Should people be allowed to protest against the government?
using other words for home in your argumentative unit

Combining novels that raise important ideas for consideration in middle school with the skills required for an argumentative unit can be a real winner! Students are sure to develop and hone a variety of skills, from research and close reading to critical thinking and evidence extrapolation, to writing and editing. I hope these 10 novels and suggested essay prompts are a great start for a new challenge in your middle school classroom!