Argumentative writing is an excellent way to encourage students to think critically and teach them communication skills they’ll use throughout their lives. But how do you break down the argumentative topic in a way that’s accessible yet comprehensive? Follow these steps to get your students started and build a foundation of argumentative success.
Step One — Choose an Engaging Topic
A high-interest, engaging topic is critical, especially if this is your students’ first time writing one. Save the idealistic, ultra-academic topics for later and engage your creativity to find something students will want to engage with. If they’re funny, that’s even better.
- Should schools assign homework?
- What is the best animal and why?
- Should your teacher forgive a bad test grade?
- Should the lunchroom be able to sell soda to students during lunch?
- Is it ok to eat candy for breakfast?
Expert sites like Adobe Education Exchange can help with topics. You can also brainstorm class topics that students have strong opinions about or divide the class a bit.
Step Two — Lay the Foundations
The biggest struggle for students is understanding the differences between opinions, claims, and arguments. Take the time to teach them that:
Opinions are personal thoughts or feelings that cannot be supported by reasonable evidence.
Claims are confident statements that may or may not be supported through evidence.
Arguments are positions organized by claim and supported by evidence.
It could be a good idea to prepare a series of statements or examples ahead of time and ask students to place them into one of the three above categories. Once you’re confident students have a good grasp of the difference, you can move on.
Step Three — Begin the Research Process
Now it’s time for students to begin putting their arguments together. Have them choose a topic or choose one for them and put everyone into a group. Allow students to brainstorm, discuss, and provide feedback for various claims and supporting evidence. Students can fill out charts based on the Purdue OWL guidelines:
Claim — Evidence — Connections
This gives them the body of their future paper.
Step Four — Time for Counterclaims
In good argumentative writing, it’s recommended to teach the other side of the story. This doesn’t happen with obvious claims or those where no one would validly argue the opposite idea. However, for controversial topics, it’s a good idea to address the controversy.
Explicitly teach this idea and then allow students to brainstorm counterclaims in their groups. This gives them the chance to find the other side and also strengthen their arguments.
Step Five — Write
Once you’ve worked through each of these activities for teaching argumentative writing, it’s time to let students write. Give them time to craft their arguments and be patient. You might also allow them to work with peers to revise and refine papers before turning them into you.
Getting Argumentative Writing Right
You can also plan other activities for teaching argumentative writing as students get better at crafting their arguments. Teach them the form and watch their arguments evolve and come to life.