Posts Tagged ‘argumentative writing’

Argumentative Writing

Well, we are down to the last 9 days of school. I know, oh do I know, how tempting it is to fill in those last few weeks with ‘fluff’ and ‘fun stuff.’ But I was having none of that this year. I wanted to end the year strong. I noticed that we had not made time for argumentative writing this year, and I know how critically important that is in 8th grade (and… life), so I developed a 9-week quick tour of the argumentative genre. Believe it or not, I think my students appreciate this. I am not having the mutiny I expected, and everyone seems fairly engaged and productive :: knocks on wood::

Argumentative Writing Informational Posters

I began by presenting a menu of options to each of my 4 classes and allowing them to choose their top 2 or 3 topics. I do have one advanced English class, and I gave them the option of “genetically modified babies,” which I did not offer to my other classes. Here were their options:

  • Cell phones in school
  • Physical Education class in school
  • Death penalty
  • Junk food in school
  • Gun laws
  • Changing the legal driving age
  • Legally assisted suicide

I had all topics pre-approved by the principal, and I did a few quick searched on my own to determine if there was enough credible and student-friendly material available on the internet for them. As you can see from the picture above, the top picks in each class were legally assisted suicide and cell phones in school.

The first step was teaching my students what evidence is (FEAST-ExO) and how to appropriately perform a google search to get some background information on their topic. I gave each small group a post it and asked them to post 5 indisputable facts about their topic that they found in their research. Then, I had each small group generate sub-questions that they still wondered about their topic, divvy up the questions to group members, and perform further research to add to the posters. This gave us a good foundation of knowledge about the topic before proceeding.

Following the internet research, I had the class generate a list of stakeholders in the topics and then assign each student to a stakeholder position (e.g. doctor, parent). They then created a mini profile on their stakeholder including name, age, occupation, stakes, etc. Their favorite part was drawing their stakeholder’s likeness 🙂

Our next steps were to investigate and practice writing claims, which culminated with them writing a claim for their own stakeholder based on his/her most logical position on the topic. Over the weekend, they gathered evidence their stakeholder would use to construct their argument.

This week, they will be engaging in an online threaded discussion on Google Classroom, posing as their stakeholder and defending their claim with credible and logical evidence. The final activity will be a collaborative one – they will work together to generate a solution or compromise for their topic. They will have to submit a detailed explanation of the compromise, including pros and cons.

Does this seem like a lot for a 13 year old? Not my 7th graders 🙂 They are doing fantastically. For some of my struggling students, I did offer assistance such as printed research for them to highlight and use. In general, though, I’ve been mostly hands-off and allowing them to explore this genre as independently as possible. I’ll be sure to report back once we have finished the unit to let you know how it went!


Update 6/3/16

We have now finished our Online Threaded Discussions, which went very well (done on Google Classroom). Having them do much of the legwork up front, researching and familiarizing themselves with the topic and evidence, was the most useful strategy. They came prepared to discuss! Below are some snapshots of their online discussions.

Topic: Physician Assisted Suicide

Topic: Physician Assisted Suicide

Topic: Changing the Legal Driving Age

Topic: Changing the Legal Driving Age

Topic: Genetically Engineered Babies

Topic: Genetically Engineered Babies


If you are interested in learning more about the activities we are doing this week, here are links to the products that I have modified to create this mini-unit: Internet Research, Argument Unit, and Argumentative Writing Instructional Workbook.

So how are you spending your last few weeks? I’d love to hear!

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What is Argumentative Writing?

According to Purdue Online Writing Lab, Argumentative Writing is “a genre of writing that requires students to investigate a topic; collect, generate, and evaluate evidence; and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner.”

In a nutshell, what this means to me is that argument essays require you to take a position on a topic and justify your position with evidence (facts, examples, anecdotes, statistics, truths, expert opinions). Before the writer can take a position, he/she must consider different sides of the issue and engage in some research.

If you have been investigating and incorporating the Common Core State Standards into your curriculum, you will have noticed that the word ‘persuade’ has almost disappeared, only to be replaced with the words argument/argumentative writing. I think of persuasion as a more aggressive, one-sided stance on a controversial issue; the writer takes a strong stance on a position and uses evidence and propagandistic language to convince the reader of something. Argumentative writing, on the other hand, defends one position/claim while also addressing and responding to opposing claims. It is also more balanced, logical, and sequential in the way in which it must address and explain multiple pieces of evidence. This is the direction that the Common Core Standards are leading us toward.

A pioneer in the field of Argumentative Writing is Dr. Richard Beach. If you teach Language Arts, you’re going to want to purchase this book:

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Teaching to Exceed the English Language Arts Common Core State Standards: A Literacy Practices Approach for 6-12 Classrooms

In fact, he’s written a great deal of poignant, timely texts on Language Arts and the Common Core. Here is a link to his page on Amazon.

I had the privilege of hearing him speak about Argumentative Writing at the Wisconsin State Reading Association Symposium in June of 2012. After reading several articles about his current research, I created my own Argumentative Writing Unit and Instructional Workbook for guiding my students through the Argument Writing Process.

Argument Unit (c) Kristen Dembroski        The Paper Chain (c) Kristen Dembroski

I will say that this makes a lot more sense to me than persuasive writing. The goal is no longer ‘winning’ a debate, but rather considering the issue from all angles and taking a calculated position. Not to get too philosophical here, but I do think this is a skill that would greatly benefit our politically divided country. Learning to listen to one another and address opposing claims leads us in the directions of understanding and compromising – surely these are much more ’21st Century Skills’ than winning.

Have you incorporated Argumentative Writing into your curriculum?

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