Have you ever met anyone with uninformed opinions? Didn’t it make you want to explode (or at the very least, lament the decline of mankind by eating pie)? Reasoning is one of our most powerful assets. As teachers, we have the opportunity to prepare students for a good old-fashioned banter. We need to teach students how to effectively argue so that they can engage in productive thinking and be active citizens of their communities. Otherwise, we are at risk for producing students who limit their own learning potential by focusing on regurgitation versus critical thinking.
First, take a minute to read the CCSS Anchor Standards for Writing as it pertains to argument:
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
When we argue, we are assuming a position with the purpose of persuading readers or rather, convincing them of our opinion; this is active work, work that requires agency on the part of the writer. This agency is what 21st century literacies demand of its citizens; for example, Franklin and van Harmelan (2007) write, “In Web 1.0 a few content authors provided content for a wide audience of relatively passive readers. However, in Web 2.0 everyday users of the web use the web as a platform to generate, re-purpose, and consume shared content” (3). Argument writing is a tool that enables and empowers students to participate in and contribute to various discourses.
Argument writing pushes students to go beyond just knowing content; it forces them to actually do something with the content. Arguing requires students to ground their thinking in evidence from the text; in fact, this evidence-grounding is one of the main instructional shifts in English Language Arts. Teachers need to spend more instructional time teaching argument writing, which encompasses teaching students how to opine and how to write persuasive texts.
Let’s consider the discipline of history: We want students to go beyond just reciting facts and dates; we want them to make historical arguments and interpretations. We also want them to become adept at using textual evidence to support their claims. Historians and social scientists actively study and inquire – they do not just regurgitate facts; they examine the evidence and create claims based on the evidence. We need to help students understand that data is a live entity and that it requires our careful and critical reading and crafting. (Questions like, “Whose history is being represented here?” and “Why is this history being told in this way?” help build students’ inquiry skills which promotes their argumentation skills.)
This semester, I asked my pre-service teachers (graduate students) to write a historical argument paper. Because of the CCSS’s emphasis on argument writing, I wanted to make sure that my graduate students knew how to create arguments since they would be required to teach their students how to do the same. The process for this task is outlined below:
Steps and Tasks: Prompts and Instructions
1. Pick a topic: What do you want to study?
2. Design your inquiry question: Narrow your topic. This question should guide your research and examine your topic deeply. Consider specific perspectives and lenses.
3. Conduct research: Guided by your inquiry question, conduct research. Critically read primary and secondary sources.
4. Craft a claim or argument: The claim is essentially the answer to your inquiry question as a result of your research. It is important to craft your claim/argument after conducting research so that your thinking is driven by the data. This claim needs to be arguable, meaning someone can deny your claim and argue an opposite point.
5. Provide examples: Use research data to support your claim/argument. Craft examples so that they prove your point. Use linking words and phrases and be explicit about how your example connects to your claim/argument.
6. Craft a conclusion: Answer the question, “So what?” Your conclusion should not be a regurgitation or restatement of your points. This is your closing argument like in a court case. Connect to a bigger issue. Address implications.
Need more ideas? Find several resources to help teach argument writing on the Annenberg Learner website:
- Write in the Middle is a workshop for middle school teachers. Module 4 focuses on teaching persuasive writing. This module provides resources, readings, samples of student work, samples of units, videos, and more.
- In Teaching Multicultural Literature, workshop 7 focuses on writing letters for social action. This workshop describes an activity from a teachers’ classroom.
- “Journey North: Cycling Through Controversy” provides a lesson for teaching students how to assume different perspectives when debating environmental issues.
Franklin, T. & Harmelan, M. van (2007). Web 2.0 for content for learning and teaching in higher education. York, UK: Franklin Consulting.
CCSS website: www.corestandards.org