Argument...No, I'm not talking about the kind of argument you have in the teacher's lounge about who gets to use the microwave first to heat up a frozen SmartOnes meal. I'm talking about teaching students everything they need to know about argumentative writing. See, what sometimes we fail to show students about argument is that it could be the holy key to a later curfew, a night out with friends, a bigger allowance, you get the point. If you sell it that way, you'll have a whole bunch of half-engaged teenagers! I digress, back to my point: the skill set of argument crosses the threshold of multiple content areas including social studies, science, etc., and it's incredibly important for students to be able to not only write arguments, but to effectively analyze arguments. Flash-forward to ten, short years from now when they are evaluating speeches given by politicians. Do we want them to eat up every word any politician shouts from a podium, or do we want them to analyze word choice, tone, and appeals to make an informed and educated choice? Can you tell election day is tomorrow? Anywho, that is where my argumentative writing unit always begins: analyzing.
Analyzing an Argument...
I first begin the unit by giving a presentation on "Analyzing an Argument."  My students take guided notes as I present to them the foundations of a good argument. I want my students to understand the necessities of a great argument before we begin writing our own arguments. After going over the notes, we read the speech "Ain't I a Woman?" by Sojourner Truth. Then we SOAPStone it, and we highlight and annotate the speech looking for examples of Ethos (pink), Logos (yellow), and Pathos (orange). I also encourage my students to look for other devices we have discussed such as rhetorical questions and repetition. I complete this format using the think-pair-share strategy. I want my students to have great discussions about argument; I don't want them sitting there analyzing it alone, allowing for their minds to sidetrack off into teenage, hormonal land. I ask them to discuss how the use of appeals and the devices help to further Truth's message and to fill out the rhetorical analysis sheet seen below. Once we have a solid practice under our belts, the next class we take on Susan B. Anthony's speech "On Women's Right to Vote." I once again, have them SOAPStone the speech and highlight and annotate looking for the appeals as well as other devices; they also must fill out another rhetorical analysis sheet. This is great practice for understanding the foundations of an argument. Students can later use these sheets as evidence to write an argumentative essay on which speaker is more persuasive when it comes to women's rights. I'll save that lesson for another day! Until then, stress on teachers!


Michon Otuafi

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