Tips for Teaching Argumentative Writing

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A person only has to spend 5 minutes in the company of a middle schooler to find out they LOVE to argue. And if someone is going to encourage them to argue and even teach them how to be good at it, they will form a line at the door to get in.


How to Make Argument Writing Meaningful


If we can help students find topics they are passionate about, teaching the art of argumentative writing becomes relevant. If we impress upon them the need they have right now for learning how to "argue" effectively, they will understand that argumentative writing is the single most important writing genre they will learn.

I like to start by introducing a real-life example that the kids can relate to. The example below clearly shows how the boy prepares his argument based on his audience. It also illustrates the difference between argument and persuasion and how to use specific evidence and counterarguments to one's advantage.
 argumentative writing


Choosing an Argumentative Essay Topic 


Weeks before we start our argumentative writing unit, we begin a topics page in our writer's notebooks. Using the books and articles we've read in class, as well as current events from social studies, the kids begin generating a running list of issues that interest them.

"Every issue that interests them" means we end up with ideas like "Should the Government Prepare for the Zombie Apocolypse?" but this is the time when anything goes. We can weed out the flakes later.

This year we wrote two argumentative essays. The first one was a warm-up essay that didn't require the kids to do research because I supplied the necessary information. I also didn't require as many supporting details in the body. I found interesting short articles from Scholastic and NewsELA and had the kids use those text sets for evidence.

Writing a modified essay before starting our writer's workshop argumentative essay worked beautifully. Students developed a good grasp the essay's structure before we did our "heavy-duty industrial strength" version.

Argument Quick-Writes


After the smaller essay came the BIG KAHUNA, an argumentative writing workshop. This time I wanted the kids to choose one they feel strongly about. We started with quick-writes, which are always a huge hit with the 7th-grade crowd. I slowly read them a list of controversial topics, like the ones from the list below. The kids write fast and furiously, jotting down everything they can think of about the topic before I read the next topic. They write and write and write. Sometimes I accidentally smoosh the topics too closely together and read them really fast. This gets the kids all worked up because they don't have enough time and they hoot and holler about it.

Of course, I don't do this too often. And it's always by accident. I swear.

Some teachers call this kind of writing "throwing up on the paper." I don't, because that gives me a bad visual, and we are dainty and cultured in my class. ;) So I prefer the kinder, gentler term I call "spitting up" on the paper. The bottom line is that the kids write about different topics until their hands ache and their fingers are about ready to fall off right there into the aisle.

(I'm telling you, my kids LOVE quick-writes. Any time they can hoot and holler and spit up and there is at least a possibility that someone's hand might fall off...they're all in.)

Argument Writing is a Real-Life Skill


Not only is argumentative writing a skill kids will find useful their entire lives. It might even serve them in an important way right now. A few years ago, my students attended an anti-bullying assembly called Ryan's Story, a presentation by Mr. John Halligan about the suicide of his young son Ryan. My students were deeply moved by the presentation, and they were angered when Mr. Halligan said that our state had terrible anti-bullying laws. When I saw how passionate they were, I moved our argument writing unit up a bit and we went to work doing research. Not every student chose to write about bullying, because the strength in argumentative writing comes from having a passion and belief in the topic. But most students did choose to write about the need to change our state's bullying laws. 


Our students worked hard, and with our team's wonderful social studies teacher, we turned the essays into letters to state senators asking for changes. One of the senators was so impressed that he came to visit our students! It was quite an event, with news reporters interviewing kids, and flashing lights going off everywhere.

The result? The kids were proud that soon afterward, the laws in our state were improved. Maybe it wasn't due to us. But just maybe it was. Which is pretty cool indeed. 

7 comments

  1. So many great ideas! Thanks for sharing them.

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