BY JENI KISNER
Rhetoric. Inductive and Deductive Reasoning. Fallacies. Concessions.
For my sophomores and juniors, these are scary terms to hear in the first weeks of school. Coming from summer break and days of Netflix binging, it can be a challenge to get students engaged in analysis of sophisticated argument. Heck, with summer brain, it can be a challenge to get our students to write 200 words about themselves in that first week.
You can teach about rhetoric and argument in August. The trick is to not let the students that they are learning (I won’t tell if you won’t!)
Here are some ways to introduce basic skills like creating claims, finding evidence, developing counterclaims, and identifying fallacies.
This or That Questions
Many of us have probably done something like this in the first days of school as it is a great getting to know you activity. Questions can be as goofy as “cats or dogs” or as deep as “safety or freedom”. In arguing over the merits of chocolate or strawberry ice cream, students are actually developing claims and finding support.
You can have students write their responses or do a values line where they move to the side of the room that fits their preference. Take this a step further and have students look up information on the internet to add to their arguments.
A great list of or that questions can be found at conversation starters world.
The Great Snack Debate
I originally found this activity in the Facebook group for AP Language. I tried for about half an hour to find the originators of the activity, but it has been developed and adapted so many times that I cannot find the appropriate person to credit. I believe that West Virginia teacher, Terri Boggs (@APTeach1), is the brains behind this fun argument activity.
Step 1: Bring in some snacks to class. Terri’s activity specifically focused on Twinkies and Ding Dongs, but I have used candy or individual snack bags. Whatever you choose, you should have at least 2 of each snack item.
Step 2: Have students choose their seats (and therefore their partners/group members) by selecting their favorite snack item.
Step 3: Analyze the snack item for a variety of factors: taste, packaging, nutrition (or lack thereof), and advertising. Here’s a handout developed by WVCTE blogger, Liz Jorgenson to assist your students.
Step 4: Select support and create thesis statements arguing why their snack is definitively the most superior of snack foods.
Step 5: Have a debate (and of course, eat the snacks!).
Buzzfeed style Listicles
If you and your students are feeling comfortable with basic argument, why not try some real-world writing? What better way to do that than analyzing our some of our favorite Netflix guilty pleasures?
Each of the below articles makes an interesting argument about the author’s favorite TV show. They develop claims and provide thoughtful support.
Culturetrip.com: “Why Stranger Things is the Best Show on Netflix”
Vox.com: “Why Beyoncé is such a Big Deal”
Have your students read the articles as readers and as writers. Consider the following questions:
- What claims does the author make? What are their supports? Are their supports valid?
- How does the writer organize their argument? Most to least important? Least to most? Some other organization?
- Are there shifts in the argument?
- Does the writer address counterclaims or offer concessions?
- What other writing moves do you notice? Clever language moves? Literary devices?
Finally, consider having your students write their own “best ever” argument using one of the above articles as a mentor text. They could argue for their favorite TV show, video game, book, sport, snack, or celebrity.
WVCTE is wondering, how do you introduce argument? How do you build soft analysis skills in the first weeks of the school year?
Jeni Kisner is the secretary of WVCTE and is a bimonthly blogger on the best practices blog. Jeni teaches AP English Language, 10 Honors English, and English 10 at Hedgesville High School in Berkeley County. This is her 8th year of teaching, and her first year of teaching with the last name Kisner. Jeni enjoys reading and listening to books, crafting, and spending time with her husband. She has an unhealthy obsession with T-rexes, unicorns, and buying far too many books.