Working to prepare our students for upcoming writing assessments, we’re focused on teaching them to argue for or against an issue. This is a shift from the old methods of teaching persuasion. Persuasion involves changing a reader’s (or listener’s) mind, attempting to convince him/her to feel a certain way. In argument, the writer attempts to reveal a truth using evidence to support his/her position (regardless of the way the writer actually feels about the issue).
I’ve just posted a new FREE product on TeachersPayTeachers—a graphic organizer to introduce students to the process of analyzing a written argument or planning their own argument. In addition to the graphic organizer, I’ve provided some strategies for incorporating argument into your content area. Here are some of the highlights:
Essential Questions & Argument
One of the most important criteria for an essential question is that is arguable. There should be no single “right” answer; instead, through the course of the unit of study, students are able to explore the concept and make connections across texts to help them determine their own position on the issue.
For example, the essential question in Chapter 6 of the U.S. History book is “Can politics fix social problems?” After reading and discussing the chapter, students should be able to argue both sides of this issue. In chemistry, students can provide evidence to support the essential question “Why was Avogadro’s concept so important to chemistry?” or they may be able to refute it. In either case, the For and Against Graphic Organizer will help students outline the reasons and the evidence.
Talk It Through
Use these three questions to help students analyze an argument:
- What does the author think? (Is he/she “for” or “against” the issue?)
- Why does the author think this way? (the reasons)
- How do facts in the text support the author’s thinking? (the evidence)
You can use these questions to evaluate students’ written arguments and to discuss professional texts. Here are three great sources of argumentative texts you may want to use as models:
Professional Blogs. The New York Times bloggers cover news, politics, technology, business, health, culture, sports, and everything else. Most major news media outlets have bloggers you can trust (but sometimes an unreliable source can provide an interesting lesson, too!)
Speeches. American Rhetoric offers transcripts of speeches as well as audio and video. A searchable database of the over 5,000 speeches can help you locate a specific topic:
Magazines. Talk to your media specialist about which online database subscriptions you can access at your school. He/she should be able to help you find journal and magazine articles, content-focused databases, and even the Opposing Viewpoints database that offers opinions on today’s hottest social issues.