Abstract Incorporating controversial issues into pre-service teacher education provides teacher candidates with opportunities not only to gain effective civic competence but also to develop skills and experience in their teaching of controversial issues. The purpose of this study was to ascertain social studies teacher candidates' views on the controversial issues involved in their courses in Turkey. The study was based on semi-structured interviews with 15 teacher candidates. It was found that controversial issues were not sufficiently included in teacher candidates' courses and that teacher candidates have difficulty in discussing critical issues in class. This study also introduced the idea that teacher candidates experiencing controversial issues in pre-service teacher education can gain positive attitudes towards teaching such issues in their professional lives and can form their own teaching strategies. Teacher candidates came to believe that good teachers should include controversial issues related to the course content and both teachers and teacher candidates should prepare for their discussion phase.