Before students can write strong persuasive essays, they must be able to identify what makes a powerful argument. Therefore, before diving into an argumentative writing unit, I complete an analyzing arguments unit first. In this unit, students learn how to write strong claims, how to support claims with evidence, how to use counterarguments to strengthen arguments, and how to identify and avoid fallacies. I found the best way to teach these elements is by analyzing argument examples from other writers and speakers.
This type of analysis is consistent with the objectives for the AP English Language and Composition course. In this blog post, I’m going to share five strategies that help students not just identify, but analyze arguments so that they’re primed and ready to write their own strong arguments at the conclusion.
1. Differentiate strong claims from weak claims with small group work
The first step in writing a sound argument is to understand what makes a strong argument. This means that students must understand the elements of a strong claim. To begin, a strong claim includes an arguable stance on a topic and provides reasoning to support that stance. If it’s missing the reasoning component, it’s likely a weak claim. If it’s missing the defendable stance part, it’s likely not a claim at all, but a fact.
Because these can be tricky, students may find that talking through some examples in small groups can be really helpful. This way, I encourage students to apply the above definitions to a variety of example statements. An even better way to practice is to instruct students to rewrite facts or weak claims into strong claims. This gives students practice identifying types of claims and creating their own from ones that are strong enough to become a thesis statement in an essay.
2. Collect substantial, varied, and valid evidence with an evidence scavenger hunt
One of my favorite activities to teach students about using strong evidence to support strong claims is an evidence scavenger hunt. An evidence scavenger hunt teaches students that evidence must be substantial, varied, and valid in order to support a claim. So how does this scavenger hunt work?
First, give students a strong claim. Then, instruct students either individually or with a partner to find a piece of evidence that could support that claim. I give students evidence categories, such as anecdotes, observations, statistics, etc. to encourage them to find varied evidence. Then, I turn on a timer for about 10 minutes and ask students to go around the room, finding evidence from their classmates for each category. You can give bonus points to the students who collect the most in the time frame.
This activity serves as a metaphor for how rigorous evidence collection is. They have to find enough varied evidence to support a claim. It also gives a great opportunity to discuss which evidence most effectively supported the claim. Ultimately, this activity can lead to a discussion about how important it is to connect evidence to claims when writing an argument.
3. Predict counterarguments and make counterclaims with a scenario
One of the most challenging tasks for students is predicting and rebuffing counterclaims. To show sophistication and complexity, some students will try to address counterclaims in their written arguments. The problem? If not approached tactfully, this attempt can end up working against their own arguments. It’s not enough to address or concede a counterargument. Rather, students must counter the counterclaim.
One of my favorite strategies to teach students how to predict and address counterclaims is with a scenario activity. Choosing a scenario that students could encounter in real life makes this more practical and, therefore, easier for them to understand.
Here are some ideas:
- You want to convince your friends that s/he should play ________(a sport)___________ or be involved in ________(an extracurricular activity)________________.
- You want to persuade your friends to go to a haunted house at Halloween.
- You want to assure your parents that they can trust you with a car.
Once you give students the scenario(s). Ask them to predict every counterargument they can
imagine. Then, they should identify which counterargument(s) are the strongest. Finally, give them practice identifying how they could counter the counterargument. This practice sets them up for identifying the strongest counterarguments in their own writing and effectively rebuking those counterarguments.
4. Create visual fallacies
I know this may seem counterintuitive at first, but a great way to teach students to avoid logical fallacies is to have them create fallacies. One of my favorite activities is to instruct students to create their logical fallacy ad campaign. If students go into the assignment, knowing their intention is to deceive or distort with a fallacy, they’re priming themselves to recognize when fallacies unintentionally occur in their own writing or intentionally in the real world.
Even better, if you ask students to create a strong visual argument to go with their logical fallacy, they’ll be able to compare the difference. This type of analysis requires students to put everything that goes into a strong argument to practice making it a great culminating project. Plus, the visual aspect gives students a chance to analyze the impact of visual arguments.
Students can use free design websites, like Canva or Adobe Spark Video, to create their advertisements. The best part is presenting these advertisements to the class. Providing rationale for their decisions shows they understand what makes and breaks a strong argument.
If you’re looking for more activities to teach logical fallacies, including visual notes and quiz, check out my logical fallacies mini-unit.
5. Analyze other strong argument examples with silent discussions
Mentor texts serve as great examples for students to analyze and replicate. The good news is that there are so many options available, you will find great examples to use with students. Then, I love parking the mentor text with a silent discussion activity.
A silent discussion is an activity that requires all of their discussion in written format, either handwriting or typing. This activity encourages students to be focused on their analysis and deliberate about their participation. Give students a written copy of the argument either on a big piece of paper for them to write on or on a digital discussion forum or board. Then, give them a set amount of time to discuss the argument. Ten minutes is a great starting point.
I like to show students examples of how strong arguments are organized. For example, I’ll find examples of an argument that uses comparison and contrast, cause and effect, or definition to organize. Then, I’ll have them analyze how the argument was strengthened by their format. You can use any analysis focus for this activity. The key is to give students an opportunity to read strong arguments.
If you like these strategies, check out my analyzing arguments unit. This unit includes all the above strategies, and many more. Plus, you’ll have all the directions, activities, and rubrics that go with it. If you’re working toward an argument writing unit, my argument writing workbook pairs perfectly to support students from analysis to direct practice.
For more reading:
How to Teach the Argument Essay