Teaching Argumentation And Persuasion Essay

We know students in the middle grades can make an argument to throw a pizza party, to get out of detention or to prove a point. So, why do they find it hard to craft strong arguments from text? The skill of argumentative or persuasive writing is a skill that’s easier said than done.

Close reading naturally lends itself to teaching argumentative writing. To be sure, it’s not the only way to culminate a close-reading lesson, but as students read, reread and break down text, analyzing author’s arguments and crafting their own can come naturally. 

Argumentative writing isn’t persuasion, and it’s not about conflict or winning. Instead, it’s about creating a claim and supporting that claim with evidence. For example, in this set of writing samples from Achieve the Core, fifth grade students read an article about homework and wrote an argument in response to the question How much homework is too much? One student wrote the claim: I think that students should have enough homework but still have time for fun. Students in third grade should start having 15 minutes a night and work up to a little over an hour by sixth grade. The student goes on to support her claim with evidence from the article she read. It builds responsibility and gives kids a chance to practice.

Here are four ways to build your students’ ability to write arguments through close reading. 

Choose Text Wisely

I don’t think I can say it enough: The most important part of planning close reading is choosing the text. If you want students to be able to create and support an argument, the text has to contain evidence—and lots of it. Look for texts or passages that are worth reading deeply (read: well written with intriguing, worthwhile ideas) and that raise interesting questions that don’t have a right or wrong answer.

PEELS: Help Students Structure Their Arguments

Before students can get creative with their writing, make sure they can structure their arguments. In the PEELS approach, students need to:

  • Make a point.
  • Support it with evidence (and examples).
  • Explain their evidence.
  • Link their points.
  • Maintain a formal style.

Check out this Teachers Pay Teachers resource (free) for an explanation and graphic organizer to use with students. 

Provide Time for Collaboration

When students are allowed to talk about their writing, they craft stronger arguments because they’re provided time to narrow and sharpen their ideas. In his book, Translating Talk Into Text (2014) Thomas McCann outlines two types of conversation that help students prepare to write.

  • Exploratory discussions: These small-group discussions provide space for students to find out what others are thinking and explore the range of possibilities. These conversations should happen after students have read closely, with the goal of building an understanding of what ideas or claims are present within a text.
  • Drafting discussions: After students have participated in exploratory discussion, drafting discussions are a chance for students to come together as a whole group to share and refine their ideas. Drafting discussions start by sharing arguments that students discussed in the exploratory discussions, then provide time for students to explore the arguments and challenge one another. The goal is for students to end the discussion with a clear focus for their writing.

The Incredible Shrinking Argument: Help Students Synthesize

Once students are writing, probably the biggest challenge becomes whittling an argument down to the essentials. To help students do this, have them write their argument on a large sticky note (or in a large text box). Then, have them whittle it twice by revising it and rewriting it on smaller sticky notes (or text boxes) to get the excess ideas or details out. By the time they’re rewriting it on the smallest sticky note (or textbox), they’ll be forced to identify the bones of their argument. (See The Middle School Mouth blog for more on this strategy.)

 
(Photo from The Middle School Mouth)

Samantha Cleaver is an education writer, former special education teacher and avid reader. Her book, Every Reader a Close Reader, is scheduled to be published by Rowman and Littlefield in 2015. Read more at her blog www.cleaveronreading.wordpress.com.  

When the purpose in writing is to persuade another of your opinion, using the correct logic and following the correct layout are very important, and your arguments, if not written clearly and with support, will fall flat. When it is time to walk your students through the process of persuasion, follow this guideline on the argumentative essay to achieve a convincing result.

  • Topic Choice

    When teaching a persuasive essay, you should make sure your students are clear on its purpose – to persuade or convince the reader that the position the writer takes is correct. This differs from other types of essays where the goal is to present information or show how something is similar to or different from something else. The persuasive essay is all about changing someone’s mind. Some topics are better suited to this type of essay, topics that can be logically argued with facts, examples, expert opinions or logical reasoning. Still, they must be a topic on which someone can take an opposing viewpoint. Some writers may be tempted to choose a matter of preference or faith, but these do not make good topics for the argument essay since it is highly unlikely the writer will be able to alter the beliefs of the reader, so encourage your students to stay away from issues of faith or preference, like ‘heaven is or isn’t real’ (since they cannot prove it,) and to gravitate toward questions they can support, such as ‘students should be able to choose their own college courses’.

  • The Opposition

    Though making assumptions is usually a bad idea, your students should start the argument essay with some assumptions about their readers. Since convincing the reader is the primary purpose of the essay, your students need to think about the person for whom they are writing, their audience. Knowing the audience can make the difference between a tolerable and a compelling essay. Your students should assume that the writer disagrees with the positions they are taking on their topic but they should not assume that the reader unintelligent. There would be no purpose to writing this type of essay if the reader already agreed with the writer’s position, but if the writer treats the reader as though he is less intelligent, the piece will have a condescending and offensive tone throughout. It is also important that your students think about why the reader holds the opposite point of view. This will be very important when it comes to writing the refutation.

  • The Arguments

    To prepare to write the persuasive essay, challenge your students to make two lists. One list should be reasons that they hold their opinion (or the pro side of the argument), and the other list should be reasons that the opposition holds their opinion about the issue (or the con side of the argument). If you are teaching a simple argument essay, the list of pros should be longer than the list of cons. If this is not the case, you may need to encourage your student to change to the other side of the argument.

    Your students can start with any style introduction that seems most effective, but the body of the essay should be rather straightforward. The writer should choose between two and four of the most convincing arguments and write one paragraph about each. It is very important that he supports his opinion with objective proof – facts, statistics, typical examples, and opinions of established experts – and not just statements of his own beliefs and opinions. Without this type of support, the argument will not be convincing. If you are teaching advanced students, this might be a natural place to look at logical fallacies and how to avoid them in this type of essay. Once the body paragraphs are written, have your students arrange their arguments in order – weakest to strongest – and end with the most compelling of the arguments.

  • The Refutation

    In this type of essay, just as important as arguing your points is arguing against the points of the opposition. When writing this type of essay, your students should not only show why they are right but also why the opposition is wrong. This part of the essay is called the refutation. Looking at the list of the reasons against their arguments, tell your students to choose the strongest point the opposite site might present. Then challenge them to think about why this argument is invalid. A strong refutation will address the argument and prove it is not logical, there is a better answer, or it is not true. Your students should spend one paragraph on the refutation, and it should come after the arguments in favor of their positions on the topic.

  • They will want to remind the reader of their points and end with a call to action. The overall tone of the essay should be logical and not emotional or manipulative. If your students are able to write this way, their essays will be convincing and effective.

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