Monday, March 23, 2015

An Introduction to Argumentative Writing

I am so excited to be writing yet another blog post for my favorite upper grades collab blog! Two weeks ago I began teaching our LAST writing unit for the year! Whoop whoop!!!!! Now, before you get too jealous, I still have other units to teach. This is just our last writing genre of the year. We started out with narrative and moved on to expository. The hardest best was saved for last: argumentative. Argumentative. Since argumentative writing has been on my brain nonstop for the last two weeks, I thought it would be an appropriate blog post. This is my first year in middle school, so this is my first year teaching argumentative. I taught a similar genre before, persuasive. My students were used to persuasive, so the first week was introducing them to the differences between persuasive and argumentative.

What’s the difference?
Most of my students wanted to say that argumentative was the same as persuasive: you are trying to get someone to change his/her mind. I had to be sure to point out precise differences to get them out of the persuasive way of thinking and more into the argumentative way of thinking.
I made the following poster for my students to see how argumentative writing differs from persuasive writing. There are many more differences that can be added, but this is the first year of argumentative writing, so I really just wanted to highlight the big differences to help my students transition their mindset.

Thank you KG Fonts and 3am Teacher for the clipart and fonts!

Argumentative writing really is presenting a side of an issue to the reader using facts, evidence, data, and research. Passion and emotions are left out. This was the MAIN difference I wanted my students to recognize. I decided to keep the poster simple for this first year of writing an argumentative piece and focus on this aspect.

Steps in writing an argumentative piece
As I was teaching my students how to write an argumentative piece, I offered a lot more support to them than when I taught narrative and expository. Narrative and expository does not change too much from 5th grade, but argumentative is a whole new beast genre. I wanted to provide my students with a step-by-step process so they could be successful. We did an entire piece together, using modeling and shared writing, which took almost two weeks. TWO WEEKS! But I know all that work on the front end will be well worth it as they begin writing their own argumentative pieces this week.

I have allotted two weeks for them to write their own. Ideally they will begin an argumentative piece and finish it within two hours since that is the time limit on the end-of-year test, but this being their first time, I didn’t want them to stress, and I wanted them to take their time. I also built in days where we could meet together and do check-ins so I could monitor their progress, and, if anyone was way off, we could quickly correct the mistakes before they were too far in.

Here is the chart we made with the steps in writing an argumentative piece. You may have your own steps, but I have found these to be helpful for my students. I also made a handout for them to keep in their binders so they cold easily reference it while writing their own (it isn’t fancy by any means AT ALL, so I didn’t include it here to download…I created it in Word and used Arial **gasp**). Each day we added a step after we completed it because I wanted students to feel ownership in it and actually use it. We also made a second chart that had the components of each paragraph so students could reference it as they wrote their own.

Nothing fancy. I just wanted them to have a reminder of each paragraph and what the content of each paragraph should be. I also had them color code the paragraphs from our shared writing argumentative piece, so they could have a visual of each component. I wanted them to have something that, as they were writing their own, they could reference.

We have to teach 5-paragraph essays, so this is how we broke down the paragraphs:
#1 Paragraph- Introductory paragraph (includes thesis statement)
#2, #3, and #4 Paragraphs- Claim paragraphs (include specific claims and supporting evidence)
#5 Paragraph- Conclusion (includes counterclaim)

My students are still working on their independent argumentative piece, but so far they are doing well with it on their own. They are reading an article I selected called “Back From the Dead,” which is a Science World Scholastic magazine about if scientists should bring extinct species back to life. I wanted to choose a high-interest article that would challenge them since I have the advanced ELA students.

I am hoping I can pop back in for my next blog post and show some example of my students’ essays. How do you teach argumentative writing? I would love to hear if you have any great strategies!

**Please excuse any typos as I don't have the super power of being perfect :)