Common Core Writing: Argument Writing

December 29, 2014

Writing argument essays can be a challenge for middle school and even high school students. Lack of quality information written at students' reading levels and access to technology to find that information are just two of the barriers. Try using text sets (provided readings) as you help your students craft their argument writing skills.
This is my fourth in a series of posts about my online course, Common Core: Implementing the Writing Standards. In my first post, I gave an overview of the writing standards. In my second post, I showed how the gradual release process can be used with writing. In my third and most recent post, I explain why it is so important that basic writing skills be explicitly taught, no matter the age or grade level.

Argument writing has a special place in the Common Core standards; it is listed as the first standard, before informational and narrative writing. As Common Core’s architect, David Coleman told a group of educators, the new writing standards are meant to reverse a pedagogical pendulum that has swung too far, favoring self-­expression and emotion over clear communication. “As you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.” You can read more about why argument writing is so important in the Common Core's Appendix A (page 24 and 25).

Writing argument essays can be a challenge for middle school and even high school students. Lack of quality information written at students' reading levels and access to technology to find that information are just two of the barriers. Try using text sets (provided readings) as you help your students craft their argument writing skills.So what is the difference between persuasive writing and argument writing? Evidence. While a persuasive essay might list the (very personal) reasons a teen should have a later curfew, an argument essay would have evidence from credible sources. Persuasive writing often relies on emotion, convincing the reader that the author is credible or that an issue should matter to the reader. Argument writing is all logic. To write an argument essay, students must be able to examine both sides of the issue, so that they have evidence to support their own viewpoint, but are also able to acknowledge and then refute opposing arguments.

Writing argument pieces with my students is a challenge for several reasons. The first and most important, is access to quality information at my students' reading levels. The Internet is a wealth of information, but as a ninth grader reading at a third or fourth grade reading level that information may be difficult to digest. The second challenge is having reliable access to technology. My school is pretty lucky to have a number of laptop carts in addition to a computer lab, but this year the number of students I have in a class exceeds the number of (working) computers in a cart or the lab.

To overcome these challenges and to support my struggling writers, I provided students with text sets on which to base their argument essays. My students were heavily impacted by the death of Trayvonn Martin last year (and Michael Brown this year), and I wanted them to have a better idea of how the justice system worked in our country so that they could make their own decision about whether it was fair or not. This led to the creation of a text set and argument essay focused on the fairness of the US justice system.

Writing argument essays can be a challenge for middle school and even high school students. Lack of quality information written at students' reading levels and access to technology to find that information are just two of the barriers. Try using a fiction piece to pique student interest followed by text sets (provided readings) to help your students craft their argument writing skills.Before jumping into our readings on the US justice system, the students read "The Lady or the Tiger?", a short story by Frank Stockton. This got them thinking about how justice systems work and what makes them fair or unfair.

To help them better understand how the king's justice system works, I created a simulation. Each student was assigned a crime and guilt or innocence (which they keep secret at first). The students approached the doors of the "arena," selected one, and were punished or rewarded on the spot, just like in the story. A tiger or a lady appeared on the screen (with accompanying growling or a wedding march).

Once all the students received their fate, they then revealed their guilt or innocence. Students immediately noticed how many guilty people got married and how many innocent people were killed by the tiger. This was a perfect lead in to comparing the king's justice system to our own in the US. Doing a quick Venn Diagram will help you to assess how much your students already know of don't know about the US justice system, and to identify any myths or misconceptions they may have as well.

Writing argument essays can be a challenge for middle school and even high school students. Lack of quality information written at students' reading levels and access to technology to find that information are just two of the barriers. Try using text sets (provided readings) as you help your students craft their argument writing skills.The first step of teaching argument writing is to introduce students to what argument writing should look like. Using a sample essay, students annotate the text, looking for an introductory statement, a thesis, topic sentences, facts and evidences, transitions, citations, an opposing argument, and a conclusion. Directions as well as explanations of each are alongside the sample essay.

This text set contains three articles about the American criminal justice system. The first is purely informational and covers how the court systems work. The second and third articles present different opinions; one article argues that the jury system is the best justice system out there (though not perfect) and the other article argues that our courts are terribly flawed. In reading this series of articles, students built their background knowledge of how the courts are designed to work and were exposed to both viewpoints.

Accompanying each article are instructions for annotation during reading as well as a graphic organizer for collecting key details and stating main idea. I find that my students can never get enough practice with identifying the main idea and saying it in their own words.

Writing argument essays can be a challenge for middle school and even high school students. Lack of quality information written at students' reading levels and access to technology to find that information are just two of the barriers. Try using text sets (provided readings) as you help your students craft their argument writing skills.
After reading all three articles, students brainstormed reasons why the US justice system is both fair and unfair. Even if students had already chosen a viewpoint, I made them generate ideas for both sides of the issue. This is extremely helpful when they must acknowledge and then refute an opposing viewpoint. At the end of their brainstorm, students select and state their position.

Once they chose a viewpoint to support, students organized their ideas in an outline. In their third body paragraph, students acknowledged an opposing viewpoint. Many students make the mistake of trying to support that opposing viewpooint rather than refute it, so watch out for that.

With a completed outline students moved on to drafting and then revising. Students annotated their own essay just as they did the sample essay at the start of the packet to ensure they have included all of the necessary components of an argument essay. Students then engaged in peer review and finally wrote a final draft.

Later in the year, my students wrote another argument essay, focused on teen's ability to make decisions, which built on the writing skills introduced in during the argument essay on the justice system. While I again provided a text set, students further developed their citation skills and sought additional sources outside of what I provided.

For other great suggestions on how to modify writing assignments for struggling writers, check out Teaching Argument Writing to ELLs. While the article is written with English Language Learners in mind, the strategies would work with any group of struggling writers.

Feel free to share your ideas and strategies for argument writing in the comments below. Next up, informational writing.

For more writing lesson ideas and resources:

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1 comments

  1. I love your resources! I bought this one quite some time ago, but have you revised it? It sounds like you have and I may need to redownload. I've learned so much and have become a better writing teacher, thanks to you! Your blogs are so beneficial. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and insight with us!

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