“…Knowing a lot of stuff won’t do you much good unless you can do something with what you know by turning it into an argument” Gerald Graff, Education Week.
Argumentative writing is the first writing standard listed in the Common Core, and that is not by accident. It is no longer enough to simply spout out accumulated information; students need to be able to reflect on and respond to what they are learning.
Plan several opportunities through the year for students to experience this mode of writing. Although this is an anchor standard required for all grades, kindergartners are not expected to write sophisticated arguments. Instead, this standard progresses from opinion (K-2) to persuasive (3-5) to argumentative (6-12). In order to develop an argument, one must first be able to state an opinion and write persuasively.
- Even our youngest writers have opinions. Use the Thumbs up, Thumbs down strategy to assess the number of students for or against a topic. Or provide them opportunities to “vote” for a favorite something. Then graph the results as a class.
- Take opinion to the next level using a sentence frame. I like ___________ because… requires students to give a reason for their preferences.
- Writing Dear Santa letters provides a great opportunity to teach persuasive writing. Students have something they want and a specific audience to address their requests to.
- Explain cause-and-effect problems. Students identify a problem in their world and offer an opinion as to how to solve it. Check out the solution proposed by a kindergartner for fixing a broken student desk.
- Read mentor texts to demonstrate different methods of persuasion. Here are some great titles to consider: Arnie the Doughnut; Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type; Dear Mrs. LaRue: Letters from Obedience School; I Wanna Iguana; I Wanna New Room; The Perfect Pet.
- Topics for persuasive writing often center on the writer getting something tangible and/or improving something about the world. Spend ample time brainstorming topics that students are passionate about as this will provide great material for strong emotional appeals.
- By third grade, students should be writing more developed pieces and providing three distinct reasons to explain their opinions.
- Explicitly define the differences between persuasive and argumentative writing.
- Since an argument reveals the multiple perspectives of a debatable issue, help students identify the pros and cons of high-interest topics using Pro-Con.org.
- Tweak your traditional research paper assignment from simply writing a summary of information to using data researched to argue for or against an issue.
- Collect a variety of text types all on the same issue. This set of texts might include charts, articles, editorials, statistics, expert quotes, etc. that reveal the pros and cons of a single issue. Students then select relevant evidence to support their stance on a prompted topic. (The Hot Topics series provides such data and addresses current issues including Internet safety, cyber bullying, immigration, cosmetic procedures, and more.)
To ensure that our students are career and college ready, we have to start teaching these skills early. We can’t afford to wait until sixth grade to introduce argument. We have to find ways to incorporate grade-appropriate skills K-12 for this most significant writing standard.