It’s no secret: People love to argue. And arguments are all around us. Think about the last time you tried to convince a colleague to try a new piece of technology, shared your opinion about a political issue with friends, or even decided with your family where to go on vacation.
But to learn to argue effectively—using critical thinking skills, credible evidence, and sound reasoning—students need practice and support. The higher-order thinking skills involved in argumentation aren’t only important for success on state and college entrance assessments; they will also serve students well throughout their education, careers, and civic life.
Argumentative writing is any writing that attempts to get others to agree with your point of view, appreciate your ideas, or take a particular action. When people think about argumentation, their first thought might be an editorial in a newspaper for or against a particular policy. But argumentation goes beyond pro-con debates. You can make an argument about a character’s motivation in a story, whether a scientific study was well-designed, which car makes the most long-term financial sense to buy, or whether the Electoral College was the best solution for a voting system in the United States.
At ThinkCERCA, we think argumentation is so important that we named our company after it; the CERCA in our name is a framework for argumentation: make CLAIMS, support claims with EVIDENCE, clearly explain REASONING, identify COUNTERARGUMENTS, and use AUDIENCE-APPROPRIATE LANGUAGE.
Here are three best practices to try with your students as you work with them on their argumentation skills.
1. Give students engaging, relevant texts. In order for students to make an evidence-based argument, they have to care about the topic. Use texts that are at an appropriate level of complexity for the student; that are high-quality, such as from respected publications like The New York Times or National Geographic; and that are relevant to students’ lives, on topics like social media, student free speech, or climate change.
2. Debate! People are social; we learn better when we’re talking with others. By having students work in teams to prepare for and then have a debate, you’re unlocking the powerful tool of peer collaboration among students to encourage them to dive deeper into the issues. They can then use all of the evidence and reasoning heard during the debate to strengthen their written arguments.
3. Provide specific and timely feedback. Just as powerful as students’ connections with one another is their connection with you. When you provide feedback on the elements of argumentation, such as how precise a student’s claim is, to what extent they have provided sufficient evidence, and whether their language is appropriate for the audience, you help students focus on their growth as writers and the development of their own powerful voices. And providing personalized feedback doesn’t have to take up all of your time. Here are some suggestions for designing classrooms that promote rapid teacher feedback.
To support your students in planning their arguments, check out this free graphic organizer that walks them through each element of argumentation.
Learn more about incorporating argumentative, informational/explanatory, and narrative writing across your school or district by watching our on-demand webinar, A Deep Dive into the Writing Standards.