"Best of the Best" Secondary ELA Blog Hop

Best Ways to Teach Argument

Today I'm joining Secondary Sara and other fantastic teacher bloggers to share one of my best resources for teaching argument.  Ever since the move to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), I’ve incorporated more practice with argumentative writing and the analysis of arguments.  These standards demand critical thinking skills from students and require frequent practice. Notably, as I've worked with the CCSS over the years, I've learned that there is a difference between teaching students to write traditional argumentative research papers and preparing them to analyze the effectiveness of an author’s argument, so they can write analytical essays about the author’s choices. With this in mind, here is how I organize my instruction.

The Traditional Argumentative Research Paper

Several years ago, I taught English 101 at the local community college as an adjunct instructor; this gave me experience teaching the argumentative essay, a major assignment in the college curriculum. My fellow instructors encouraged me not to assign essays about cliché topics such as school uniforms, legalization of marijuana, or gun control. While these topics are fine to use, students often have opportunities to write about them in other classes and rarely have new ideas to bring to their writing. Thus, I needed a way for students to choose appropriate topics that would  be current, compelling, and interesting to read.

A useful tool for finding topics was The New York Times Room for Debate website. On a weekly basis, The New York Times invites experts to contribute short editorials with their opinions on timely issues. In fact, a recent visit to the website shows the following engaging topics:


What’s behind the spreading creepy clown hysteria?
Should every young athlete get a trophy?
Can a meme be a hate symbol?


Typically, four - six contributors provide insight with their positions on the topics. These are short articles that provide quick introductions, and students can use their reading as a starting point for more in-depth research with scholarly articles. 

Quick Practice with Argumentative Writing Prompts

There isn’t always time for my students to write longer argumentative essays, and I don’t have the time to grade several of these research papers in one semester. Consequently, I’ve developed shorter activities to give students practice with argumentative writing. One of my favorites, my best-selling Argument Bell Ringers, can be used in a variety of ways and gives students repeated practice on a myriad of issues. In this resource, which is on sale today, there are thirty engaging topics for teenagers including some of the following: distracted driving, electronics in class, the high school dropout age, employment restrictions for teens, cyber bullying, college entrance exam requirements, public displays of affection, tanning bed age restrictions, and over-prescription of ADHD medications.

These prompts present claims and students must brainstorm evidence, counterarguments, and refutation for the claims. They make useful bell ringers in my ninety-minute class periods but can be used as other activities or for different purposes in shorter classes. For instance, each bell ringer activity can be split over a three-day period, as students complete one section at the beginning of class for each day. These can also be used for cooperative learning; students can work in small groups to brainstorm ideas together.  Or, if preferred, a teacher can use them with learning stations.

Analyzing Author’s Craft
In my experience with PARCC, our state’s standardized literacy assessment, students don’t actually write traditional argumentative essays. Rather, they are expected to read texts and analyze the arguments presented by the writers. These texts are often primary and secondary sources from history such as "The Speech to the Second Virginia Convention," "Ain’t I a Woman?" and "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

To give students practice with this skill, I teach them to identify and evaluate the rhetorical appeals and structure of the arguments in these texts. An easy activity uses my free argument taskcards. These task cards are used after students have become familiar with the following terms: claim, reason (justification), evidence, counterclaim, and refutation. By using task cards, I can differentiate my instruction and make it more hands-on than giving a typical worksheet.

How do you teach argument?  What makes it interesting in your classroom?  I'm always interested in new ideas, so please share in the comments below.

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11 comments

  1. I'm excited to go and check out the NYT debate site. It looks like they have some very engaging topics. Thanks for sharing that, Kim!

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    1. Me too! What a great way to get students thinking!

      OCBeachTeacher- I just redownloaded those task cards this morning to use! Love em!

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  2. Thank you so much for sharing more information about this resource. It's something I've seen around TpT before, but now I know that it would work for me in a shorter class period. It's so helpful to break down student writing into manageable chunks. Thanks!

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  3. I am going to check out these argument bell-ringers! We are in the middle of an argumentation/debate unit so they would work out perfectly. Also, I LOVE the NYT Room for Debate. I've used it in journalism, so thanks for the reminder to incorporate it into my current unit! Thanks for sharing!

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  4. Great ideas. I love getting away from the tired stand-by argument topics. (I'd be okay if I never read another paper about legalizing marijuana that sounds as if it was written while high...!)

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  5. I have never heard of the NYT Room for Debate website before! I am super excited to check it out! Thank you so much for sharing that and your fabulous tips for argumentative writing.

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  6. I LOVE using Room for Debate in class. It's always so topical and interesting! And I already have your argument task cards and enjoy using them in class. You've given me the idea to try argument bell ringers - what a smart plan for having them frequently practice the skills without the heavy paper load.

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  7. Thank you so much for that website, Room for Debate. I have never heard of it. The best idea!

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  8. I teach middle school and we begin teaching argumentative writing in 6th grade. Understandably, we have to be rather structured to ensure students "get" it but the idea of all you need being in one hand would be a great way to hook them!

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