Argumentative Essay Lessons Middle School

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.  

Evidence-Based Argument
Lesson plans and teaching resources

200 Prompts for Argumentative Writing
Prompts by category for the student who can't think of anything to write about.

Are You My Mother? An Opinion Writing Unit
This 5-lesson unit uses the Langston Hughes poem "Mother to Son" and a portrait to emphasize facts and opinions. Includes writing task. Designed for grade 2.

The Classical Argument
Handout detailing introduction, narration, confirmation, refutation and concession, and summation. Two pages, Adobe Reader required.

Decoding text types: One of these things is not like the others
This blog explains the difference between opinion writing, persuasive writing, and argument.

Developing Evidence-Based Arguments from Texts
This guide provides teachers with strategies for helping students understand the differences between persuasive writing and evidence-based argumentation. Students become familiar with the basic components of an argument and then develop their understanding by analyzing evidence-based arguments about texts. Students then generate evidence-based arguments of texts using a variety of resources. Links to related resources and additional classroom strategies are also provided. Designed for grades 6-12.

Evaluating an Argument: Chevy Volt Commercials
This activity introduces students to analyzing an argument.

Five Ways of Looking at a Thesis
Using The Princess Bride and other works as models, this page presents five aspects of a good thesis statement.

I Don’t Think So: Writing Effective Counterarguments
In this lesson students analyze the work of winners of the New York Times Learning Network's 2014 Student Editorial Contest as well as professional models from the Times editorial pages to learn how writers effectively introduce and respond to counterarguments. Then they write their own position pieces, incorporating counterarguments to strengthen their claims.

Identifying Voice
This 3-page handout asks middle school students to read an article, respond, and identify the voice. It includes a graphic organizer. Requires Adobe Reader or compatible application for access.

Logic in Argumentative Writing
This resource covers using logic within writing — logical vocabulary, logical fallacies, and other types of logos-based reasoning. Follow the links on the left for the complete resource. Part of the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University, this resource is appropriate for high school students and older.

Making an Argument: Effective use of Transition Words
Students explore and understand the use of transition words in context and write their own persuasive essay using transition words. Includes printable handout. This lesson is designed for grades 5-8.

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere: Literature v. History
Over the course of three lessons the students will compare and contrast two different versions of one of the most iconic events in American history: the midnight ride of Paul Revere. The comparison will be made between the poem "Paul Revere’s Ride" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and a description of the event written by Paul Revere himself. Students will use textual evidence from these two sources to draw their conclusions and write an argumentative essay.

Narrative, Argumentative and Informative Writing About Baseball
Students read a New York Times article about the use of sabermetrics in radio broadcasts of baseball games. They write a persuasive response. This writing task is the second of four prompts here. Common Core Standards indicated. Don't miss the link to Abbot and Costello's "Who's on First?"

Position Papers
Links to strategies and prompts.

Pros and Cons of Controversial Issues
Looking for a resource that presents both sides of an issue? Try this one!

Researching the Argument
High school students develop research skills by investigating a case being heard by the Supreme Court.

Teaching Argument for Critical Thinking and Writing: An Introduction
This article discusses and provides a model for teaching argument. Adobe Reader required.

Teaching the Thesis Sentence
Five models designed by college instructors. Scroll down for 10 additional tips.

Simple Questions lead to Complex Learning
Questions about the value of a zoo lead to informational text, research-based writing, and critical thinking.

State of the Union Creative Assignment
Introduction and 5 activities supporting study of the State of the Union Address: edit the speech, support or defend one statement from the speech, evaluate the topics chosen, write a critical response, write a catch phrase.

A String of Beads
Through constructing a necklace students visualize a plan for including the central idea, supporting facts, and a clincher sentence in a paragraph.

Using an Op-Doc Video to Teach Argumentative Writing
Students learn how authors support an argument using different types of evidence. The class watches the Op-Doc "China's Web Junkies" (link included) and notes how the filmmakers build their argument. Designed for ninth grade.

Verification Junkie
A directory of tools for verifying, fact checking and assessing the validity of social media and user-generated content.

What's Your Fifth Element?
This writing assignment asks students to choose something that is important in this modern world and write an organized case that persuades others of their item's significance as a Fifth Element; helping the rest of us comprehend its "essential magnitude."

Writing an Argument
In addition to defining "argument," this site includes an exercise in avoiding logical fallacies.



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