My ninth-grade students love to argue. They enjoy pushing back against authority, sharing their opinions, and having those opinions validated by their classmates. That’s no surprise—it’s invigorating to feel right about a hot-button topic. But through the teaching of argument writing, we can show our students that argumentation isn’t just about convincing someone of your viewpoint—it’s also about researching the issues, gathering evidence, and forming a nuanced claim.
Argument writing is a crucial skill for the real world, no matter what future lies ahead of a student. The Common Core State Standards support the teaching of argument writing, and students in the elementary grades on up who know how to support their claims with evidence will reap long-term benefits.
Argument Writing as Bell Work
One of the ways I teach argument writing is by making it part of our bell work routine, done in addition to our core lessons. This is a useful way to implement argument writing in class because there’s no need to carve out two weeks for a new unit.
Instead, at the bell, I provide students with an article to read that is relevant to our coursework and that expresses a clear opinion on an issue. They fill out the first section of the graphic organizer I’ve included here, which helps them identify the claim, supporting evidence, and hypothetical counterclaims. After three days of reading nonfiction texts from different perspectives, their graphic organizer becomes a useful resource for forming their own claim with supporting evidence in a short piece of writing.
The graphic organizer I use was inspired by the resources on argument writing provided by the National Writing Project through the College, Career, and Community Writers Program. They have resources for elementary and secondary teachers interested in argument writing instruction. I also like to check Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week for current nonfiction texts.
Moves of Argument Writing
Another way to practice argument writing is by teaching students to be aware of, and to use effectively, common moves found in argument writing. Joseph Harris’s book Rewriting: How to Do Things With Texts outlines some common moves:
- Illustrating: Using examples, usually from other sources, to explain your point.
- Authorizing: Calling upon the credibility of a source to help support to your argument.
- Borrowing: Using the terminology of other writers to help add legitimacy to a point.
- Extending: Adding commentary to the conversation on the issue at hand.
- Countering: Addressing opposing arguments with valid solutions.
Teaching students to identify these moves in writing is an effective way to improve reading comprehension, especially of nonfiction articles. Furthermore, teaching students to use these moves in their own writing will make for more intentional choices and, subsequently, better writing.
Argument Writing With Templates
Students who purposefully read arguments with the mindset of a writer can be taught to recognize the moves identified above and more. Knowing how to identify when and why authors use certain sentence starters, transitions, and other syntactic strategies can help students learn how to make their own point effectively.
To supplement our students’ knowledge of these syntactic strategies, Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein recommend writing with templates in their book They Say, I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing. Graff and Birkenstein provide copious templates for students to use in specific argument writing scenarios. For example, consider these phrases that appear commonly in argument writing:
- On the one hand...
- On the other hand...
- I agree that...
- This is not to say that...
If you’re wary of having your students write using a template, I once felt the same way. But when I had my students purposefully integrate these words into their writing, I saw a significant improvement in their argument writing. Providing students with phrases like these helps them organize their thoughts in a way that better suits the format of their argument writing.
When we teach students the language of arguing, we are helping them gain traction in the real world. Throughout their lives, they’ll need to convince others to support their goals. In this way, argument writing is one of the most important tools we can teach our students to use.