The following blog post is part of a blog series called "Comments on the Common Core," written by Eye On Education's Senior Editor, Lauren Davis.
Persuasive writing has been very popular in ELA classrooms in recent years. During a persuasive writing unit, students are typically asked to write a letter or essay convincing someone to do or believe something. Students are taught persuasive techniques such as bandwagon, glittering generalities, and snob appeal.
Now the Common Core is moving teachers from persuasion to argument. This shift might be confusing to people who see “persuasion” and “argument” as the same thing. However, the Common Core’s authors draw a distinction between the terms.
When writing to persuade, … [one] common strategy is an appeal to the credibility, character, or authority of the writer … Another is an appeal to the audience’s self-interest, sense of identity, or emotions …. A logical argument, on the other hand, convinces the audience because of the perceived merit and reasonableness of the claims and proofs offered rather than either the emotions the writing evokes in the audience or the character or credentials of the writer. (The Common Core State Standards, p. 24)
In other words, argument is about logic, not emotion. The Common Core authors also say that argument has a “special place” in the standards, since it is a crucial genre for college and careers.
So how do teachers adjust their lessons to fit the new requirements? Here are some strategies for teaching argument.
- Teach concession-refutation. Students should be aware of and address the other side of an issue, not just their own side. You may need to give students sentence frames. You can find some on the website of Eye On Education’s author Amy Benjamin. Go to http://www.amybenjamin.com and click on “Writing” under Common Core—the sentence frames are part of that PowerPoint.
- Show students how to avoid common logical errors. A list of common logical fallacies (with examples) can be found here. The site www.fallacyfiles.org contains additional examples of logical fallacies in the world. Students can even contribute to the site.
- Analyze mentor texts with students. For example, students can look for examples of concession-refutation in newspaper articles, and they can see how an author supports his/her claims with logical and clear evidence.
- Teach students how to marshal facts. Effective argumentation requires strong evidence. Students need to learn how to gather that evidence and how to incorporate it into their writing. Don’t just let students go to Google and pick the first thing they see. Teach students how to create focused search terms; how to narrow their search results; how to evaluate a website for reliability accuracy, currency, and bias; how to incorporate information into their essays (when to quote and when to paraphrase, and what constitutes a real paraphrase vs. plagiarism); and how to cite sources.
- Teach students some academic vocabulary involving argument writing—claim, evidence, marshal, concession, refutation, etc.
And even though argumentation should be your main focus based on the Common Core’s requirements, I’m all for throwing in some persuasive lessons if time permits. Teaching students to understand emotional appeals will help them become more media literate and savvy about propaganda in the world around them. I’d hate to see that left out completely. You could also do argument writing that includes elements of persuasion, since a lot of authors combine facts and emotion.
How are you teaching argument? Leave a comment!
Check back on September 12 for How to Design Text-Based Questions (and Teach Students to Answer Them!)
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