Tuesday / June 25

Let’s Get Ready to Rumble! It’s Argument Time!

One of the most versatile genres in the literacy world is that of the argument. Argument writing is one of those types of writing that works just about anywhere. Math, science, social studies, ELA – you name it. Arguments manifest themselves in and across all subject areas. Plus, arguments are frequent fliers in the real world, which means they have street cred when it comes to authenticity.

Think about it: Where and when do you hear arguments on a daily basis? Court rooms, debates, position papers, commercials, talk shows, sports programming, television shows, and more. Not to mention that almost every single teenager on the face of the planet has an honorary doctorate in the genre. (Trust me. I have two teenage daughters.)

Arguments easily transfer into multiple content areas and allow students to plan and write about content that is relevant and timely to them. In most standard sets, students are required to at least “dabble” in the argumentative genre, while many require fully involved compositions with carefully placed research and evidence that support well-articulated claims.

However, arguments can be daunting for some students. Part of this comes from the fact that in many instances, students are thrown directly into the deep end and are tasked with writing about a topic or idea that they may know little about. Couple that with the requirements of writing an extended and lengthy piece, and some students may have a difficult task ahead of them. In fact, they might even argue with you about why they have to do it!

One way to introduce the genre of argument writing is with a strategy called Attack or Defend Writing (p. 33) from my new book Write Now and Write On: 37 Strategies for Authentic Daily Writing in Every Content Area. With this easy strategy, students take quotes from famous individuals and decide whether they will draft an argument to defend what was said, or attack it. Because this strategy capitalizes on a small amount of text (one quote), it offers students an opportunity to practice crafting an argument based on a simple statement or question. By focusing on short snippets, students can pay close attention to word choice, point of view, and context when crafting their arguments.  Plus, the strategy is super easy to implement and can be used in a variety of subject areas.

To try Attack or Defend in your classroom, start by identifying a quote or phrase that you want students to attack or defend. If using quotes by historical figures, contemporary pop icons, or other well-known figures, make sure that you have two sets of quote cards: one set that includes the name of the author/speaker of the quote, and one set that keeps the quote anonymous. Why, you ask?  Because sometimes when we know the author of the words, our opinion is influenced and it can be difficult to focus just on the words. Plus, leaving off the author’s name for part of the class allows your students to take a stab at guessing the author. This is one of the most interesting byproducts of this strategy because oftentimes, the students who do not know the author choose a potential candidate that couldn’t be more different than the true originator of the words. For example, in one class, we used a quote attributed to Adolf Hitler. Students in the group who did not know the author guessed historical figures like Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Theodore Roosevelt. Talk about polar opposites!

But Attack or Defend writing doesn’t just work with quotes. You can use this strategy with different approaches for solving a math problem. You can use pictures, photos, or images instead of quotes. Include potential varying scientific conclusions that might be drawn from conducting the same experiment or examples of artwork or musical compositions. You can use even use video footage of different football offenses or other team plays.

Regardless of the content or purpose, Attack or Defend serves as a perfect opportunity for students to get acquainted with the construction of arguments in a low stakes, engaging manner. No argument from this corner!

Written by

Rebecca G. Harper, Ph.D. is an associate professor of literacy at Augusta University.  She has served as an invited speaker and keynote for a variety of literacy conferences and has delivered literacy professional development sessions across the country. Her research interests include sociocultural theory and critical literacy and content and disciplinary literacy. She resides in Aiken, SC with her husband, Will, and children, Amelia, Macy Belle, and Vin. She is the author of Write Now & Write On.

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