How to Make Argument Writing Meaningful
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.
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.
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.