The Common Core State Standards ask teachers to shift from teaching persuasion to teaching argument. Unlike persuasion, argumentation relies more on claims and evidence and less on emotional appeals.
Common Core Literacy Lesson Plans: Ready-to-Use Resources, 6-8 provides a model lesson plan for teaching argument techniques. The lesson shows students how to acknowledge and respond to opposing claims (called concession-refutation). Students use T-charts independently and with partners to flesh out their claims and consider the other side.
We've asked the members of our panel: Have you switched from teaching persuasion to teaching argument? What strategies have you found effective for teaching argument? OR Please describe a lesson you have used to teach argument.
Suggestions from Claire Hardin
7th Grade Reading/Language Arts Teacher
Birmingham City Schools
Whether teaching argument with regards to current events, personal topics, or literary analysis, I have found the Jane Schaffer writing method to be highly effective in the middle school classroom. The paragraph pattern of topic sentence-evidence-commentary-commentary-evidence-commentary-commentary is easy for students to remember and use in their writing, especially when we color code each component with highlighters as we draft:
- “True blue” for the thesis statement and topic sentences
- “Green as the ground we stand on” for evidence
- “Illuminating insight yellow” for commentary and explanation
When I first teach this method, we write the same essay as a class. We decide on our claims as a whole group, and I put a big sheet of butcher paper on the wall for each claim. Then, students form small groups and write evidence for each claim on sticky notes. They move from poster to poster, adding their evidence and commentary and evaluating the contributions of other groups. Then as a whole group, we choose the most effective evidence for our claims and begin drafting the essay together.
This strategy, along with plenty of modeled writing, leaves middle school students feeling confident and prepared to tackle argument on their own for their independent writing assignments.
Suggestions from Cindy K. Ryan
Dreher High School
My most successful writing assignment regarding argument focuses on Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. First, the class analyzes the speech for historical relevance and location, content, persuasive techniques (including diction and appeals), and its impact on the audience. The assignment requires students to consider the impact/legacy of his speech on American society by researching relevant political and social events of the 1960s to the present. They also have to consider the region of the country in which we live versus other parts of the nation.
After the foundational work is completed, each student must decide if “the dream” has been achieved or not. While the students’ written arguments must provide specific evidence to prove their views, students must also acknowledge opposing views—a delicate balance, even for strong writers. The time spent working on not only the argument but also the importance of one’s diction and approach to the topic help build the scaffolding for this balance.
The writing process is well exercised in this assignment. Students write several drafts, and as a result, the final product is usually one of achievement and pride. After an assignment as deep as this, students tend to realize the power of argument (the big brother of persuasion) and the need for coherence and unity in their writing.
Suggestions from Carol Varsalona
Director of Language Arts and Testing
West Babylon Schools
West Babylon, NY
As a central administrator, I feel it is essential to present Common Core-aligned learning opportunities that lead students to become thoughtful, critical thinkers and consumers of information. In my district, the movement from persuasive writing to argument is a work in progress. This year, to raise the bar for all learners, we are focusing on Common Core Shift 4, text-based answers, and Shift 5, writing from sources. JHS students will be encouraged to engage in rich and rigorous conversations about text and focus their writing not on emotional appeals but evidence-based claims and counterclaims.
A resource that will be used to support the shift toward the teaching of argument is the NY Times’ Room for Debate website that features various high-powered topics to debate. Working in pairs, student will choose an age-appropriate issue to explore, such as the value of young adult literature, and engage in focused discussions based on a claim. They will clearly argue for or against the claim while supporting their statements with evidence. Following this, a counterclaim will be stated and refuted. The debate will end with a strong, evidence-based conclusion. This process promotes analytical thinking and a deepening of understanding that may lead to further exploration of the topic in writing.
Suggestions from Sandy Scragg
Technology Coach & English Teacher
Emma Lazarus High School
New York, NY
As a high school English teacher, I have mixed feelings about the Common Core’s focus on argument. However, with these changes looming, this spring I embarked on a plan to include more argument-based responses from my students as we read Catcher in the Rye. I normally require a reading log with several categories, but this time I added the question “What would you like to discuss in class about this reading?”
I compiled student responses and assigned them to groups of two to three students. Each group prepared and led a class discussion on their student-generated topic. Group members investigated their topic, wrote an open-ended question, came up with their own response, and made sure to cite specific pages in the text as the basis of their argument.
At first, I needed to prompt students to elaborate and provide text-based evidence; quickly, however, they were able to lead without intervention. My students were reluctant and nervous at first, but came to enjoy this activity, and it was repeated with other texts we read. Students felt validated by having their topics chosen, and they also relished the depth and breadth of the discussion, which, I have to admit, would not have been attainable without the emphasis on text-based arguments.