Teaching both tenth and twelfth grade presents its rewards and challenges. It is rewarding because I get to see so much growth and maturity in twelfth graders. It can be challenging when I just finish grading 50 tenth-grade argumentative essays at the end of the first semester only to turn around and grade 50 more twelfth-grade argumentative essays at the beginning of second semester.
The Purpose of Argumentative Writing
While the challenge is in the time it takes to grade the essays, the excitement is within teaching argumentative writing. The purpose of argumentative writing is to defend a position on a particular subject with the goal of persuading readers to accept or at least consider the argument.
Elements of Argumentative Writing
There are four big ideas to remember when teaching argumentative writing: claim, reasons, evidence, and counterclaim.
Claim – This is the main argument of the essay. It might also be called a thesis or thesis statement.
Reasons – These are the ideas that support the claim. In a traditional essay, there are at least three but this varies based upon grade level and complexity of the argument writing.
Evidence – These are the specific details in the argument writing. If students are conducting research, this is where the expert opinions would be included. If students are referencing data, it would be written here. If students are including examples, it would be included here. Any appeals a student used would be evident here.
Counterclaim – This is the other side of the issue. Addressing a counterclaim makes the student’s argument writing stronger.
Students can address counterclaims a number of ways in argument writing. Here are some common approaches:
While it may be true that ____________; nevertheless, it turns out that ____________.
A common argument against this is ________, but _____________.
Skeptics may think that ____________, but ___________.
Focus Topics & Transitions in Argumentative Writing
Last November, I had the great pleasure of presenting at the National Council of Teacher’s of English Annual Convention with author, educator, and our special guest Core Grammar blogger, Dr. Beverly Ann Chin. In her presentation, Dr. Chin included the following questions to focus topics in persuasive writing:
Is the scope of my persuasive topic appropriate and manageable?
What is my thesis statement or claim?
What facts, examples, or details contribute to—or detract from—my persuasive topic?
How do my topic sentences and transitional devices help the audience see the unity and coherence in my persuasive writing?
Do the main ideas and supporting ideas address my audience’s questions about the persuasive topic?
The questions Dr. Chin shared during her presentation should also be asked when writing argumentative essays. Keeping in mind topic sentences and transitions, here are some key words that can help support students as they begin to write argumentatively.
To connect the first paragraph to the second paragraph, use phrases such as To begin with, In the first place, or The first reason.
To connect the second paragraph to the third paragraph, use phrases such as Additionally, Another reason why, or Next.
To connect the third paragraph to the fourth paragraph, use phrases such as Lastly, Yet another reason why, or Also
The conclusion also needs a transition, so remind students to use phrases such as In conclusion, To sum it up, or In the final analysis.
Graphic Organizer for Argumentative Essays
Argumentative writing is powerful and important. I've created two worksheets for download that can assist students in their argumentative writing.
The first is a graphic organizer to capture students’ thinking about a claim, reasons, and evidence. The second is a poster/tip sheet to remind students about the elements of argumentative writing. Download them now!
To read more about writing and revision, download Dr. Chin’s Teaching Meaningful Revision: Developing and Deepening Students’ Writing eBook!