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Q&A with ThinkCERCA Teacher Tiffany Walston


Learn about ideas for classroom activities that encourage students to think through the CERCA lens


Can you tell us about the Debate Cup you’ve planned? How can it enhance writing instruction?

Throughout my teaching experience with writing, I've realized that students are most engaged when the topics they write about are relevant to their lives. With that understanding, I have utilized the Debate Cup in class as an activity that stimulates profound, student-led conversations centered around the CERCA Framework. Students write down on a scrap piece of paper something that they want to argue about during the activity. The responses range from current events to family issues, as well as trending topics focused around their daily lives. Then, I have students randomly select one of the arguments from the cup and construct an argument about the topic using the CERCA Framework. Once they are done writing, students check their color-coded CERCA argument and make revisions if needed. After the writing process is complete, students take the floor and lead discussions using their group-edited arguments.

What strategies do you use to engage students with writing?

I not only use the Debate Cup but I also incorporate videos, advertisements, gallery walks, political cartoons, a valuable objects bag, and even Netflix shows in order to engage students in academic conversations that incorporate persuasive techniques and the CERCA Framework. Furthermore, I also try to give my students a choice on how they show their content mastery through the use of personalized learning strategies such as Choice Boards, Playlists, and Pathways. Some of these activities are described below:

  • Gallery Walk Example CERCA Activity – Print out five historical images and place them around the room. Have students silently walk by the images and add a post-it note describing what they think the message or theme is of that picture. Then have students select an image to focus on after they've viewed all of them. They must turn their theme post-it note into a claim, provide evidence, and reasoning. When they have completed writing the claim, evidence, and reasoning, they must switch with someone in the class and create a counterargument. We then share these responses to the class and discuss.
  • Political Cartoons CERCA Activity – Have students select a political cartoon and use the CERCA Framework to answer the following questions: What message is the artist trying to convey? Can you describe the intended audience?
  • Valuable Objects CERCA Activity – Get a bag and put random objects in the bag such as sunglasses, nail polish, a phone, pencil, scarf, etc. Any item will work. Have students randomly select an item from the bag and create a CERCA argument persuading the audience that their object is valuable. To make this activity even more interesting, select their audience that they must keep in mind as they are writing.

Why do you think writing skills are essential for today’s students?

Writing skills are essential for today's students because they are a vital part of communication. Whether they use these writing skills in their future career paths or in everyday conversations with their peers, writing helps an individual thoroughly understand the world around them. This understanding leads to positive results such as critical-thinking skills that are necessary for the digital realm that we currently live in.

What advice would you share with fellow Charlotte-Mecklenburg ThinkCERCA teachers?

The advice that I would give to my fellow CMS ThinkCERCA teachers would be to engage your students with interactive mini-lessons that will help chunk the writing process for students so that it isn't so overwhelming for them. Start by focusing solely on the claim. Then have students trade and rewrite the claim in a different way. By developing their understanding of that step and ensuring that they've mastered that skill before moving on, students will have more confidence going into the next steps of the CERCA writing process. Writing can be frustrating and exhausting, which can cause students to not want to write at all. If presented in small steps and building blocks, the writing process will be fun, as well as very inspiring once students understand how to develop their ideas and transport them from their mind to the paper.

What are your favorite ThinkCERCA lessons?

There are a variety of informational texts that can be great for cross-curricular content. I love to use the customizable lessonsas well so that I can upload any article that we are focusing on in class. This platform offers an abundance of passages and activities that could help any teacher implement balanced literacy and close-reading strategies in their class.

Mallory Busch
Mallory Busch

Mallory Busch is ThinkCERCA's Editor of Content Strategy. A graduate of Northwestern University, Mallory came to ThinkCERCA from stops in audience strategy at TIME magazine and news applications development at Chicago Tribune and The Texas Tribune. She holds degrees in Journalism and International Studies, and was a student fellow at Knight Lab in college.