Teaching students to argue

Yes, you read that right. I’m teaching my students to argue, or rather I’m teaching my students to argue well.

I don’t know what English teachers concentrate on in writing in their eighth grade classes, but in my district we concentrate on argument writing. Students will write three argument essays throughout the year as well as several journals that are argument/persuasive oriented. Yeah parents might not be so fond of me at the end of the year 😉

We started the year watching Louder than a Bomb, a great movie about the annual slam poetry contest in Chicago, centering on four students. By the way, if you’ve never seen the documentary I HIGHLY recommend it, or at least watch the videos on the page linked above.

After students watch the movie, they pick the poet they feel is the best and write an argument essay on that topic. This particular essay is a writing sample, giving me the basis for what  I need to instruct them in to create effective well supported arguments.

Reading the essays there are kids that I think “I’m glad I’m not their parent, this kid is good at supporting their arguments” and others I wonder if they’ve ever won an argument in their life.

Still it gives me a great starting point, next up they get to argue who is most responsible for ummm hold up SPOILER ALERT, they will be watching Dead Poets Society so if you’ve never seen it you may want to skip this next part. They will be writing an argument essay to argue which of the characters is most responsible for Neil’s death.

I’m looking forward to it because we’ll be referencing The Outsiders that they read and watched last year in 7th grade. We’ll discuss who was responsible for Bob’s death and give specific details, they just might get a model essay on that topic, of course that means I need to write it first, um yeah, guess I should get to work.

I can’t wait to see their argument skills improve as we talk about supporting their reasons with evidence, specific details, persuasive/argumentative language. Even more more interesting and more FUN will be the discussions we have afterwards, when they share their opinion with the class and we get into a lively debate. I know the Outsiders debate was always one of my favorite classes to facilitate and participate in. The debate my Challenge class had on DPS had me just as excited. Kids so sure of their opinion and that someone else was wrong they were talking over each other. I love that excitement. I love stopping them and reminding them that everyone has their own opinion and everyone has the right to express that opinion, not that you have to agree with them but you should listen and try to listen with an open mind. Listen for ideas you hadn’t thought of, ideas that might just change your mind, or maybe confirm your current opinion. These are the days that I just LOVE and in the past so have my students so I hope this group loves it too.



  1. Sounds like you’re a really good teacher.

    One thought, though:

    While arguing well is a valuable skill, it becomes an incredible skill when pared with the ability to see all sides of an issue. Ever thought of having the kids write a second essay arguing that the other poet is better than the one they just chose?

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