Are you tired of reading persuasive and argumentative essays that are superficial and poorly written? Would you like to inspire your students to think more deeply about their ideas? Follow these steps for teaching persuasive & argumentative writing- and get much better results:
- Start with an engaging topic and an initial reflection
- Provide relevant mentor texts – on both sides of the issue
- Give students an opportunity to discuss ideas with their peers
- Require groups to come to a consensus & support it during full class discussion
- Give students lots of feedback during the process
- Practice by writing a focused paragraph
- Scaffold the process of writing the essay
If you are tired of low student engagement in the writing process, and want yours to use more higher order thinking as they write, try a pre-writing activity that requires them to do some thinking and discussing. When we provide opportunities for students to participate in active learning activities that push them to engage their brains – before we ever assign an essay – students will produce better work than they do with the passive learning that lecture and handouts provide.
Read on to get more detail on how to improve your students’ persuasive & argumentative essays. I’ll even give you some links to read-to-use lesson plans.
Start with an engaging topic and an initial reflection
Before you even introduce the idea that your students will be writing an essay, get them immersed in the process of thinking about topics that induce different opinions.
We would spend several days exploring some “controversial” topics, so students could experience the process that one usually goes through when thinking critically about an issue. I would introduce a topic in the form of a question, and get students to do a quick, initial reflection on how they feel about it, like Tik Tok: a ticking time bomb, or the way of the future? In their responses, students call on their prior knowledge and experience, and take an initial stance on the question.
After they record their thoughts, students had a quick turn-and-talk to start the process of exploring their ideas on the topic with their peers.
Provide relevant mentor texts – on both sides of the issue
Next, students watched some videos and read several mentor texts that attempt to persuade the reader/viewer on different sides of the issue. They had to identify both fact and opinion as they read and annotated the texts.
Opinion is a big part of persuasive and argumentative writing – but without any supporting facts, it’s not very powerful. Facts will validate and strengthen an opinion and they can see this when they read and view texts that provide both.
I also like to give my students texts that allow them to identify areas where writers could make their arguments more substantial and persuasive if they only added more details and facts. That way, my students begin the critical thinking process they will need when they support their own arguments in an essay.
Give students an opportunity to discuss ideas with their peers
The persuasive & argumentative mentor texts serve to educate the students on at least some aspects of the topic – and they get information that supports both sides of the issue. After they read the texts, I grouped students so they could continue the process of exploring their ideas by talking about them with their peers.
First, they debated fact v opinion in the mentor texts. That’s always an interesting discussion, as it’s not always so clear, and they have great debates as they try to decide. I spend my time circulating, listening in, and asking probing questions when I think they may need a little guidance: But is that really a fact? Does she support it with any evidence?
This collaborative learning exercise is an effective way to get students, once again, going through a process that will help them think through the essays they will eventually be required to write.
Groups come to a consensus & support it during full class discussion
The next step in the process is to get the students in each group to come to a consensus on how they feel about the topic. Usually, this results in further debate as they hash out all the pros and cons. If someone really can’t go along with the group’s decision, I’ll chat with them and allow them to join another group if they can make a good case for doing so.
I tell them that we will be having an informal debate on the issue with the entire class, and that they need to prepare by deciding on the points they want to make and collecting evidence they will use to support them. They need to use some quotations from the mentor texts, along with their own points. When we have time, I add a research component into this step of the activity.
During this time, they are practicing the skills they will need for developing and supporting a thesis in persuasive and argumentative writing.
Give students lots of feedback during the whole class discussion
The full class discussion is another opportunity for students to build the critical thinking skills they need to write better persuasive & argumentative essays. Each group takes turns presenting their point of view and evidence. Other groups have a chance to add to or challenge what they say – and they need to back up their statements with evidence.
During the process, the teacher is asking questions, prodding for more detail, and pulling students back when they get off topic. By doing so, the students are getting real-time formative feedback on how to construct and support an argument. And, most times, they are having a lot of fun as they debate the topic.
Practice by writing a focused paragraph
After the full class discussion, I had students write a single paragraph explaining their stance on the issue. They had to support their views with at least two quotations from the mentor text. I didn’t require them to write a whole essay yet, as this was an opportunity to practice the skills they need to write persuasively. Doing so immediately after the activity resulted in some well written work that showed a great deal of engagement with the topic. That’s because we took the time to really explore it and to go through the critical thinking, collaboration, and sharing that helped students dig deeply into how they felt about the issue.
Scaffold the process of writing the essay
We did this activity with several topics before I assigned the persuasive or argumentative essay. It took almost a week, but it was time very well spent. By the time I introduced the idea that they would write a persuasive research essay, most students had gained not only the skills but also the confidence they needed to get started.
However, at that point I didn’t just say – now go write an essay. We still took our time as I scaffolded the steps my students would need to be successful. It’s a process I’ve had great success with over the years. You can read more about it here.
So those are my seven steps for teaching persuasive & argumentative writing. By building in opportunities for lots of active learning and collaboration, your students will be ready to start writing presenting arguments that they thought critically about.
The Argumentative Essay
The argumentative essay follows a different format than the persuasive one, so to teach my students the difference, we do the Argumentative Challenge.
During the challenge, students do a practice run and then try with a new topic. During both activities they
- Work with a group to brainstorm arguments
- Pair up with the other side to listen to their points
- Create counter-arguments based on what they heard
- Write a paragraph that argues why their choice is best
- Research and include a quotation for support (optional)
It’s a super fun way to get students ready to write strong, argumentative essays – or just an effective skill building activity to use in class.