The ability to convince others to change their minds on important issues or about important information is a key communication skill. Young students learn to write persuasively, but by late elementary school or early middle school students should understand how to express and defend an argument in a formal essay. This post will help you teach your students argument writing.
Prerequisites to Teaching Argumentative Writing
Before students can skillfully compose an argument essay, there are a few things they should already understand:
- the difference between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd person points of view
- the difference between formal language and informal language
- the basic components of a five paragraph essay: introduction, body, conclusion
- how to use transitions between and within paragraphs for continuity
- the difference between persuasive and argumentative writing
To aid you in teaching your students to write argumentative essays, download this PowerPoint lesson for free! It includes explanations of the components of an argumentative essay as well as model paragraphs.
The Introductory Paragraph
The introduction, as with any skillfully written essay, includes some type of “hook” to catch the attention of the reader. The writer needs to make the reader WANT to read the essay. The hook can be confirmation of something the reader should already know and can relate to, a compelling question, a seemingly outrageous statement, or some bit of little known information. The hook is followed by a few sentences about the topic in general to build and/or confirm background knowledge for the reader before the final sentence of the paragraph–the thesis sentence. The thesis should contain a clear indication of just who the intended audience for the essay is. It should also answer a question either affirmatively or negatively, often with “should” or “should not.”
Here is a sample introductory paragraph that sets up an argument answering the question “Should kids under thirteen be allowed to have Facebook accounts?”
Facebook is the number one social media platform. It has been around for nearly fifteen years. People rely on Facebook every day to keep in touch with friends, catch up on news, play on-line games, and shop. It is so basic now a days, that it really seems out of the ordinary for people NOT to have Facebook accounts. Recently, there has been some speculation about possibly lowering the minimum age for allowing kids to have Facebook accounts—perhaps to as low as ten years old. However, parents need to understand that kids under thirteen years old should not be allowed to have Facebook accounts.
Notice that the thesis statement is the last sentence in the paragraph. It not only answers the question prompt, it also clearly indicates who the intended audience for the essay is.
The Body Paragraphs
The body paragraphs of an argument essay offer up the reasons that the reader should agree with the thesis statement. They should offer ample examples, data, clarification, etc. to develop the topic sentence of each paragraph. Unlike persuasive writing that relies almost wholly upon pathos (emotional) evidence for support, argument writing should offer logical (logos), credible (ethos), and emotional (pathos) evidence. Since most argument essays are expected to contain three reason paragraphs in the body of the essay, it makes sense…perhaps for middle school and certainly for high school students…to develop one paragraph around a logical reason, one paragraph around a reason that is documented by some authority, thereby giving it credibility, and one paragraph around emotional evidence to which their audience might have sympathy. Writers should order their reasons beginning with what they consider to be their weakest reason and ending with their strongest reason in order to make the most impact upon their readers.
Here are sample body reason paragraphs to defend the above stated thesis:
One reason boys and girls under thirteen should not be allowed to have Facebook accounts is that they lack the maturity to realize that some pictures and some types of postings are not appropriate for sharing with “the world” on Facebook. Children do not realize when some picture poses are suggestive or even vulgar. They might think some pictures are funny that are actually totally unsuitable for sharing with others on a social media platform. They make create posts that are overly emotional or misleading to others that may make them seem emotionally unstable or even in danger. For instance, a child might post that a parent is going to “kill him” for some transgression at home. Another adult might see this post and report it to authorities, resulting in embarrassment for the family and waste of public resources in investigating a childish statement.
A second reason for children under age thirteen to not have a Facebook account is because Facebook could distract them from schoolwork or family time. There are so many hours in a day. Students who spend more time on-line obviously have less time to spend on just being a kid. Less time to play outside, play with friends, read, pursue a hobby, practice a musical instrument, learn to cook, or spend time with family. Of course, the same could be said for spending time on-line versus actually living life in general, but with all of the other on-line pursuits (TV, games, texting, etc.) why allow another platform for spending time on-line? Parents should realize that less time spent on school work will result in a less-successful school career for their child. Likewise, parents should also realize that less time spent together pursing activities as a family will result in less bonding among family members.
A third reason kids should not be allowed to have a Facebook account before they are thirteen is because there could be people who prey on young kids who befriend them on Facebook. Though adolescents and adults are also vulnerable to on-line manipulation, Anthony Borrelli, in his article “On-line Predators” described how “bored girls” are especially likely to be victims of on-line contacts from predators who are looking for victims for human trafficking, prostitution, or just perverse individual contact. Kids get lured in by answering seemingly innocent questions from strangers on-line and develop an attachment to their contact. While the young are not the only targets of on-line predators, they are the least equipped to handle the situations that may develop.
Notice that the first sample paragraph appeals mostly to emotion (pathos), the second paragraph appeals to logic (logos), and the third paragraph presents a credible authority that writes about supporting information for that particular reason (ethos). Also, notice the transitions at the beginning of each paragraph. Finally, notice how each topic sentence previews the information that will be presented and defended in each paragraph.
The Counterargument Paragraph
The most notable element that sets argumentative writing apart from persuasive writing is the acknowledgement and refutation of a counterargument. Compelling arguments do not ignore the other side. In the case of this topic, whether kids under thirteen should be allowed to have Facebook accounts, there are people on both sides of the issue. When taking the stance, as in this sample essay, that kids under thirteen should NOT be allowed to have Facebook accounts, the argument is made stronger when the writer can pinpoint and refute arguments from the other side.
Because the counterargument paragraph does need to be part of the body of the essay, its inclusion means that this argument essay, though ostensibly a five-paragraph essay format, must become a six-paragraph essay. The best placement for the counterargument paragraph is either right after the introduction paragraph or just before the concluding paragraph. Writers should decide on placement by considering which placement will have the most impact on their readers.
Here is a sample counterargument paragraph:
Some people think that Facebook could help kids under thirteen stay in touch with friends. They might say that since nearly everyone now a days has a Facebook account, kids under thirteen should be allowed to have their own accounts too. However, these people are forgetting that age matters when it comes to having the maturity to make good decisions about what to post and who to connect with on-line. Consider how easy it is to “make new friends” on Facebook. Each time someone scrolls through their news feed, numerous suggestions for new “friends” appear. These are “friends” of “friends.” But unless a Facebook user actually knows someone in person, there is no guarantee that the face and the name are actually who they are saying they are. Eventually, kids could be adding “friends” who are actually predators. That reason alone is enough to keep kids off of Facebook until they are at least thirteen.
Beginning the counterargument paragraph with a phrase like “some people think” cues the reader that they will be shifting from information in support of the thesis to information that is in opposition to the main idea of the essay. After presenting information from the other side, the writer needs to shift back to his stance with the aid of a transition word or phrase (in this case “however”) in order to give the reasons why the opposition’s reasons are not as justified as the reasons presented to support the thesis of this essay.
The Concluding Paragraph
Conclusions often stump students because they think they have already written all there is to be said. However, students need to shift their thinking from the conclusion being the “ending” to the conclusion being their “last chance” to sway their readers.
Here is a sample concluding paragraph:
For all of these reasons and others too countless to mention, even though many may favor it, kids under thirteen should not be allowed to have Facebook accounts. They should wait until they are older and know what types of pictures and comments are appropriate to post, since whatever they post will be available to anyone who sees their Facebook wall for years to come. Students who are ten or eleven years old, or even younger, do not need one more thing to distract them from school work or even just from being a kid. And, most importantly, children under thirteen are decidedly not emotionally equipped to deal with possible predators on-line. Any parent who has a son or daughter under the age of thirteen with a Facebook account needs to take action right away to get their kids off of Facebook!
The conclusion begins with a transition to alert the reader that the end of the essay is near (in this case “For all of these reasons…”) and restate the thesis. Next, they should reiterate each of their body paragraph reasons, rewording for extra emphasis. Finally, and most importantly, the final sentence of the essay must be some type of call to action for the reader, something they must respond to. This statement should be parallel to the purpose of the essay that student might indicate when working on planning and pre-writing their essay.
Click here to download my “Teaching Argumentative Writing” PowerPoint to use with your students for free!
And…check out these resources as well: