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Everything’s an Argument: Aligning to Common Core Standards for Argument essays 11th -12th Grades
Interestingly, the standards for 9th/10th and 11th/12th differ only slightly, distinguished by depth of response. That is, the upperclassmen need to do the same thing as the underclassmen, just with a bit more “oomph”. That makes sense if we are to move students forward systematically. However, this year’s transitional students will need us to create a sort of combo-pack approach to the expectations for argument.
Use an Engaging prompt: The best prompts to begin with are those closest to the student’s experience. (One of the best argument essays I ever read was a teenager arguing to be able to use the family car!)
Find out what your students argue about. Consider a homework assignment that has them articulate what their controversies are.
Is the class divided on a topic, such as the “best” musical artist or musical genre? Find something in their zone, particularly for the first argument essay.
Scaffold the components of the essay. Don’t assign the entire essay all at once. You’ll get the usual blasé material and drive yourself crazy in the grading of it!
Assign the thesis. Only the thesis. Have students discuss the reasons they’ve determined. What reasons are convincing, and what ones are not? Let them talk it out with each other. Before they can begin the outline, you’ll approve the thesis.
A model that meets the 9/10 CCS standards might be:
Although many people dislike Lady Gaga, she takes a position on cultural issues, which makes her a good role model for teenagers.
An 11/12 model might look like this:
Although many people find Lady Gaga a media-hungry culture icon, her ability to convey serious messages in her music and her adherence to her messages indicate that she is the best role model for teenagers, today.
To make the thesis reach the necessary level of significance, the student has to “deepen the pot” of his/her original thesis. Ask them to determine the "reasons why" behind their counter-claims and claims.
Roughly, this is what you’ll have to do with your upperclassmen. They’re going to hand in a 9th grade level thesis, which is a good start. Take them to the next step for revision!
Helping students revise theses will take a fraction of the time it would take to grade an entire essay. After you approve the thesis revision, the student should be able to form a pretty solid outline.
Question Outline: Instead of having students present a traditional outline, have them work from a question outline. Help them see that each point in the thesis implies a question that must be “answered” in the essay. It might look like this:
Discussion 1: Why do people think Lady Gaga is just media-hype?
Why is their assessment of her invalid?
Discussion 2: What messages does Gaga convey in her
Why is her conveyance of messages a reason for her to be considered the best role model for teens, today?
Discussion 3: What is significant about Gaga's adherence
to her messages?
Why is her adherence to messages a reason why she should be considered the best role model for teens, today?
Students find this strategy helpful when brainstorming their discussions. Help them see that they might be able to work through two paragraphs per discussion. Paragraphs work best when they answer one question.
Review outlines for relevance and reasoning of the questions. If the students have posed the right question, they'll have a better shot at crafting a paragraph that follows through with valid reasoning.
In my line of work as an online writing instructor, I've found the use of the question strategy helps students more than any other.
Thinking like an attorney: Most students have a good idea about what evidence is and what “proving” a case looks like. Using this analogy will help them understand how to determine the best evidence for each of their claims and counterclaims.
Likewise, when they work through their intended audience's thinking, you can use the analogy of a jury. In this case, the “jury” is the class.
Have them look around at their classmates and predict what arguments so-and-so may have. Who is the most difficult person they have to convince? Have them choose their evidence, based on that person. You’ll want to model the strategy, and let them begin their paragraphs in-class. That way, you’ll be on hand for spot-checks of their reasoning.
From here, students should work through their rough drafts and revisions. This is familiar territory! However, you will have given them solid practice for reasoning.
Here are the expectations of the two, side-by-side.
Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
Next up, we'll tackle literary analysis as an argument! : )