University of Iowa

Effective Literacy Lesson: Constructing an Argumentative Claim

Teen looking at social media

Focusing on the group negatively affected by social media (in this case teens) contributes to writing a debatable, focused, and clear argumentative claim such as “Teenagers should not be allowed to have their own social media accounts.”

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Posted on: October 8, 2019

Editor’s Note: This blog post is part of an ongoing series entitled “Effective Literacy Lessons.” In these posts, we provide a brief summary of the research basis for an approach to teaching reading or writing skills. Then, we outline the instructional sequence for the approach and script how a teacher might “think aloud” to model what students should do or guide students in completing portions of the lesson. The intent of these posts is to provide teachers a starting point for designing their own effective literacy lessons.

Research Basis

The ability to construct clear arguments is critical for writing in academic, professional, and social settings (Newell, Beach, Smith, & VanDerHeide, 2011). An effective approach to teaching writing skills is explicit instruction, in which teachers directly teach students a writing skill or strategy and provide targeted and scaffolded practice (Gillespie & Graham, 2014). In addition, providing opportunities for peer- and self-assessment, as well as teacher feedback, have been found to improve writing ability (Graham, Harris, & Santangelo, 2015). Thus, it is important for teachers to deliver explicit instruction in which students learn to construct strong arguments (Andrews, Torgerson, Low, & McGuinn, 2009).

Lesson Materials

For Teachers:

  • Scripted purpose, introduction, and modeling
  • Plan for guided and independent practice
  • Argumentative Claim Checklist (see Supplemental Resources for Teachers)
  • Evidence for opposing sides of two arguments

For Students:

  • Argumentative Claim Checklist

Instructional Sequence

Lesson Appropriate for Grade 6

This sequence is appropriate for students who have (a) chosen a controversial topic about which to write an argumentative essay (e.g., the minimum wage, social media), (b) read one or more texts about the topic, and (c) gathered evidence to support opposing sides of an argument related to the topic. Teachers can help students choose controversial topics by providing examples, such as those provided by The Learning Network from the New York Times.  In addition, teachers can help students conduct preliminary searches related to a topic of interest to ensure that there is an argument related to the topic and sufficient evidence to support opposing sides of the argument.

After gathering evidence, students are ready to evaluate the evidence and form a strong argumentative claim, the foundation for an argumentative essay. In order to model writing an argumentative claim, teachers should prepare evidence for two opposing sides of an argument. The evidence for the arguments used in the following instructional sequence is from ProCon.org, a site with some useful controversial topics to choose from.

Topic: Social Media
Benefits Drawbacks
  • Helps people efficiently share information
  • Can be used to collaborate on school assignments
  • Can be used to meet new friends and maintain friendships
  • May help people who are shy or socially isolated connect with others
  • Helps people spread false information
  • Higher use of social media associated with lower grades
  • Used for cyberbullying of children, teenagers, and adults
  • May increase feelings of loneliness and increase risk of depression in teenagers with disabilities

1. Establish the Purpose and Specify Objectives

Teacher script: Today you will learn to write strong argumentative claims. Writing a strong argumentative claim is important because it is the foundation for an argumentative essay. By the end of class, you will write an argumentative claim based on the evidence you have gathered.

2. Introduce the Concept and Skill

Teacher script: An argumentative claim introduces a writer’s main argument, which will be supported by reasons and relevant textual evidence throughout the essay. The argumentative claim is presented in the first paragraph of an argumentative essay.

A strong argumentative claim has three important characteristics. It is debatable, focused, and clear. A weak argumentative claim may result in confusion or a lack of interest in the reader. In addition, a weak claim may be difficult to support with evidence, which will decrease the effectiveness of the argument. Therefore, it is important to begin an argumentative essay with a strong argumentative claim.

3. Model Writing an Argumentative Claim

Teacher script: The first step to writing an argumentative claim is to review the evidence you have collected about the topic. I have collected evidence related to the benefits and drawbacks of using social media. I need to re-read the evidence I have collected and identify the argument I want to make (display the Argumentative Claim Checklist with a document camera or interactive whiteboard). I know the argumentative claim needs to be debatable, which means that it needs to make a claim about which people can have different opinions. In addition, the argumentative claim needs to be focused, which means that it makes a specific claim about one side of the argument. Finally, the argumentative claim needs to be clear, which means that the reader can understand exactly what my position is and knows what the rest of the essay will be about.

When I review my evidence, it seems that the drawbacks of social media are more important than the benefits. Bullying, depression, lower grades, and the spread of false information can all negatively impact people. Therefore, I might think about writing something like this (writing on the document camera or interactive whiteboard): “Some things about social media are bad for people.” I will use my checklist to see if this claim meets all of the criteria.

The first criterion says that the argumentative claim should be debatable. I ask myself, “Is it possible for two people to disagree about my claim?” I do not think this claim meets that criterion because everyone would probably agree that there are at least some drawbacks to social media. The second criterion says that the argumentative claim should be focused. I ask myself, “Is this claim about a specific part of the topic, such as a specific setting or group of people related to the topic?” I think this claim could be more focused by narrowing the argument to specific consequences of social media or its effects on specific people. The third criterion says that the argumentative claim should be clear. I ask myself, “Will the reader of my essay know exactly what I am going to write about after reading my claim?” I do not think the reader of my essay will know exactly what I am going to write about after reading this argumentative claim or anticipate the kinds of evidence I might provide. Because this argumentative claim does not meet the three criteria on my checklist, I need to revise my argumentative claim.

I will review the textual evidence again. Several pieces of evidence are related to the negative effects of social media on specific groups of people: teenagers and students. I think that two people might disagree on whether or not teenagers should be able to have their own social media accounts. In fact, I have heard disagreements between adult family members and their children about this topic. Writing a claim about a specific group of people will help my claim be more focused. I will try writing a new argumentative claim. This time, I will start my sentence with the specific group of people on which my essay will focus, so the reader knows exactly what I will be writing about. I also will take a more specific position related to that group of people. Because teenagers may be bullied, get lower grades, or feel depressed as a result of using social media, I will argue that they should not use social media at all (write on the document camera or interactive whiteboard: “Teenagers should not be allowed to have their own social media accounts”).

I will check my revised argumentative claim with my checklist. I think this claim is debatable because someone else might think that teenagers should be allowed to have their own social media accounts. Another person might think that teenagers should have social media accounts that are monitored by their parents (check off the first criterion on the checklist). The second criterion says that the claim needs to be focused. I think this claim is focused because I narrowed the topic to a specific group of people, teenagers, and I am making a specific statement about the topic when I say that teenagers should not have their own accounts (check off the second criterion on the checklist). The third criterion says my claim should be clear. I think that the reader will understand my position and anticipate the kind of information I will include in the rest of my essay (check off the third criterion on the checklist). Because I have checked all three criteria on the checklist, this is a strong argumentative claim.

4. Provide Guided Practice in Writing an Argumentative Claim

Display the new topic and evidence below. Ask students to work with a partner to develop an argumentative claim about school uniforms. Remind them that they should use the Argumentative Claim Checklist to make sure the argumentative claim is strong. Explain that once they are finished, each pair will share the argumentative claim with another pair of students, who will evaluate the strength of the claim by using the Argumentative Claim Checklist. If the argumentative claim does not meet all three criteria, the pair will revise the claim and share with their peers for further evaluation. As students work, circulate the room and provide feedback using the Argumentative Claim Checklist. Be sure to redirect any misunderstandings or errors using language from the checklist.

Topic: School Uniforms
Benefits Drawbacks
  • May prevent crime and increase safety in schools
  • May reduce peer pressure and bullying
  • Increases school spirit
  • May improve attendance and discipline
  • Restricts freedom of expression
  • May be ineffective in reducing bullying and may actually increase violence
  • May make some students feel uncomfortable because of the uniform style or fit
  • Does not improve academic performance or attendance

5. Provide Independent Practice and Evaluate Student Work

Ask students to retrieve the evidence they have collected about a particular topic and independently write an argumentative claim. Remind students to use the Argumentative Claim Checklist to make sure the claim is debatable, focused, and clear. After the lesson, evaluate each student’s argumentative claim with the Argumentative Claim Checklist. If a student’s claim does not meet all three criteria, ask the student to revise the claim and resubmit it for additional evaluation.

Supplemental Materials for Teachers

PDF iconArgumentative Claim Checklist

Students can use the three-part checklist to ensure that their argumentative claim is a strong foundation for the rest of their essay.

References

Andrews, R., Torgerson, C., Low, G., & McGuinn, N. (2009). Teaching argument writing to 7- to 14-year-olds: An international review of the evidence of successful practice. Cambridge Journal of Education, 39, 291–310. doi:10.1080/03057640903103751

Gillespie, A., & Graham, S. (2014). A meta-analysis of writing interventions for students with learning disabilities. Exceptional Children, 80, 454–473. doi:10.1177/0014402914527238

Graham, S., Harris, K. R., & Santangelo, T. (2015). Research-based writing practices and the Common Core: Meta-analysis and meta-synthesis. The Elementary School Journal, 115, 498–522. doi:10.1086/681964

Newell, G. E., Beach, R., Smith, J., & VanDerHeide, J. (2011). Teaching and learning argumentative reading and writing: A review of research. Reading Research Quarterly, 46, 273–304. doi:10.1598/RRQ.46.3.4


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