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What should I know about the argumentative reading standard?
april 6, 2021
In today’s information-rich world, it’s important for readers to go beyond consuming nonfiction text. They need to learn to critically read opinion-based informational text. This includes learning to identify an author’s perspective, analyze his reasons and evidence, and ultimately evaluate the strength of the argument.
These critical reading expectations are embedded in the argumentative reading standard which can be found at every grade level and in every collection of academic standards. (For example, CCSS RI 8 and Indiana RN 4.1.) This is the standard that asks primary kids to identify the reasons an author gives to support his points and older readers to trace and evaluate an author’s argument.
When attacking this standard, regardless of the grade level, start by identifying the three facets of any opinion-based text.
Depict these three parts with a table analogy
PART 1: The author’s overall position is like a tablecloth. Just as a tablecloth drapes over all of a table, the author’s overall position covers all the sentences and paragraphs to follow. Also, like a tablecloth is atop the table, so is the author’s overall position. It will be revealed at the very top of the text—within the introductory paragraph(s).
PART 2: Each of the author’s reasons are the top of a table. After the what-he-thinks introduction, all the remaining body paragraphs will offer the why-he-thinks-it explanation. Often, each reason (opinion or claim) the author offers serves as a topic sentence to a separate paragraph or paragraph block. Describe these as table-top sentences.
PART 3: Corresponding evidence supports each reason like a table leg. Tables are no good without legs to support each table top. In the same way, opinionated reasons carry no weight until they are followed with facts, details, statistics, and examples to hold them up. As the author unveils these details, they act as table legs, offering specific, related, and relevant evidence to back up the author’s general opinion. The more legs of support the table has, the sturdier the table is; the more evidence each reason has, the stronger the argument.
Select opinion-based texts
Primary teachers can begin the teaching of the what-and-why structure using literature. Before summarizing an author’s opinion in informational text, identify a character’s perspective in fiction. Books like Hey, Little Ant, Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type, and The Day the Crayons Quit all contain character perspectives that begin with an overall position and provide reasons with details of support.
In the intermediate and upper grades, teachers should be on the lookout for informational text on debatable topics. This means that the passages within traditional science and social studies textbooks will not work; these are nonfiction. Rather you need informational text that is laced with bias and opinion.
This type of text can be found in many speeches and essays tied to science and social studies units. Consult additional sources like TV commercials and public service announcements. Check out websites like ProCon.org, and All Sides. And for those who subscribe to a newsmagazine like Weekly Reader or Scholastic News, the “Perspectives Corner” is just what you will need.
Acknowledge the scaffold of this standard
The argumentative reading standard, in many ways, is another text structure standard—like CCSS RI 5 or Indiana RN 3.2. Students have to break down opinion-based texts into its three parts in order to trace or summarize an author’s position, his reasons, and its evidence.
Since this is a K-12 expectation, recognize that all grade levels can use the same tables and legs analogy. However, the text (and the graphic organizer) should get more sophisticated as students progress from primary to intermediate grades. This includes going from a single reason to multiple reasons. This will require an organizer that includes several tables (i.e., multiple reasons) all under the same one table cloth (i.e., position). And for middle and high school readers, the text will likely also include a counterclaim.
In addition, while elementary grade levels focus solely on retelling the author’s perspective, grades 6-12 have to advance from tracing to evaluating it as well. This will require doing more than just completing the organizer. Now students need instruction on how to analyze its content for credibility, relevance, and accuracy.