Teaching How To Write Argumentative Essay

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.

    Teaching students how to write arguments is both fun and challenging. Students have opinions, they want to be heard, but they need to learn how to make well reasoned arguments that are supported with strong evidence. This eCoach guides teachers through five simple steps that teach students how to write credible arguments.

    Step One: Choose a High Interest Topic

    When teaching argumentative writing, the topics we choose should be familiar and interesting to our students. Consider the list below.

    • Should schools give homework?
    • Should schools give letter grades?
    • Should colleges look at students’ social media sites as part of the acceptance process?
    • Should businesses be allowed to advertise on school campuses?
    • Should we pay college athletes?
    • Should schools allow students to play contact sports like hockey, lacrosse, and football?

    It is important to acknowledge that not all writing tasks have high interest topics. In order to prepare for state exams, college aptitude tests like the SAT and ACT, and AP writing exams, students need to practice writing about subject matter that is less emotional and not as exciting. That said, high interest topics are great place to start when teaching students how to write arguments.

    It might be a good idea to let students talk about the topic in small groups before you move to Step Two. Students will have lots to say about the above topics and will most likely list opinions. We want students to get their thoughts out so that they are ready to listen and learn.

    Step Two: Explicitly Teach the Difference between Claims and Opinion

    Since we are asking students to take a position on topics that are interesting to them, they might want to list their opinions on the subject instead of crafting a reasonable response that is supported with evidence. Here are three definitions that can help.

    • claim: a confident statement that (something) is true but may not be proven or supported.
    • argument: a position on a topic organized by a claim or series of claims that are supported by reasons and evidence.
    • opinion: personal thoughts, feelings, and beliefs on a topic that cannot be supported with evidence.

    Use multiple scenarios and examples to show the difference between these two words. Consider writing statements on cards and giving them to small groups. Then, ask the groups to sort the statements into two categories: claims and opinions. Discuss each statement and ask students to explain why a statement is a claim or why it is an opinion. To extend the learning, ask students how an opinion can become a claim. Ask inquiry-based questions like…

    What about this opinion can we argue? What needs to change? Does it need to be more focused or specific? For example, an opinion might be: “School lunches are nasty.” To change this opinion into a claim, we could say, “School lunches lack nutrition and tend to be bland.” We can support this statement with evidence. The word “bland” could be supported by looking at the amount of salt and spices in the food and the types of food served in school cafeterias. (It might be good for me to pause here and state that LiteracyTA is not making the claim that school lunches are nasty.)

    These types of activities give students multiple experiences with the words “claim” and “opinion.” This is what we mean when we say “explicit.” Students need more than a definition. They need multiple ways to learn new words and clear explanations that help them understand.

    Step Three: Brainstorm Claims, Evidence, and Warrants

    Now that students have a better understanding of claims, guide them through developing their argument with claims, evidence, and warrants. A warrant is an explanation that connects the evidence to the claims. To get started, create a three column chart. The first chart will focus on the proponent’s argument. Start with a claim. Then, ask students for reasonable evidence that directly supports the claim. Students may need to do some research based on the claims that are made. Next, brainstorm ideas that can connect the evidence back to the claim. See examples at Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL).

    Consider working under a document camera or on the whiteboard as you complete the table. Students will benefit from seeing how the ideas build and connect. When ready, have students tackle a claim on their own or in small groups.

    When the proponent’s argument is outlined, ask students to build a second organizer. This time, the class will work together to build an argument for the opposing side.

    Step 4: Explicitly Teach Counterclaim

    A well reasoned argument not only acknowledges the “other side,” it challenges its own claims and discusses its limitations. Traditionally, we have taught students to include a counter argument toward the end of a persuasive essay. In argumentative writing, counterclaims can appear almost anywhere and certainly have a different function. Counterclaims (as the name suggests) are designed to challenge the claims being made in the text; whereas, the purpose of a counter argument is to acknowledge other viewpoints on the topic. Both are useful, but a counterclaim can strengthen a writer’s credibility by forcing him or her to think deeply about the argument being made, questioning its merits and plausibility.

    Step 5: Get Them Writing

    Once students gather their claims, reasons, and evidence, have them take a central position on the topic and give them 20-30 minutes to write their arguments. Since so much work went into setting up the writing task, students won’t need a full 60 minutes to write. I like to have students practice writing arguments in their daily journal. Journaling is seen as informal, so students feel comfortable and uninhibited. The truth is, some of the best writing comes from my students’ journals. I expect my students to write with proper grammar, punctuation, and paragraphing, but the journal doesn’t feel like a timed test or an in-class essay. 20 minutes later, my students have written arguments that include all of the major features in this writing type.

    Additional Teaching Ideas

    An introduction and conclusion can be challenging for our students. I have learned a few questions along the way that help my students develop authentic writing. Here are my winning questions.

    Opening paragraphs

    • What is the issue?
    • Why are you interested in the issue?
    • How are you related to the topic?
    • What is motivating you to write? (Don’t say, “My teacher.”)
    • What are the common or leading viewpoints?
    • What is your position on the topic?

    Supporting Paragraphs

    Support and advance the argument with claims, reasons, evidence, and counterclaims.

    Concluding Paragraphs

    Why is this topic relevant and important to consider?

    Learn more with LiteracyTA resources for Argumentative writing.

    Interested in this topic? Would you like to learn more about writing arguments and supporting claims with textual evidence? Come learn with us this summer in San Diego. LiteracyTA University early bird registration ends April 30th.  

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