In this article, we will explore the process of constructing a high-quality argumentative essay. The ability to craft a coherent argument and to express those arguments with others in a discussion are essential skills to encourage in our students. This skill helps our students not only engage with the world but also to process their thoughts and discover their opinions about things.
In this article, we will use the terms ‘discussion’ and ‘argument’ interchangeably. But, it is worth noting that the real purpose of a discussion is to explore a variety of arguments to arrive at the truth, where possible.
Teaching our students the basics of argument and discussion is not about tooling them up to ‘win’. The discussion processes are as much about the student discovering what they think as they are about persuading others to agree with them. As students mature and get more practised in their discussions, they will discover that often discussion is a necessary precursor to having an opinion on a given topic, no matter how basic or advanced that topic may be.
For students, the discussion often bridges the gap between the speaking and listening learning areas and reading and writing ones. It is for this reason that we will look at some oral discussion activities before examining how to approach the writing of discussion pieces in the classroom. These oral activities can serve as excellent pre-writing exercises for the students to prepare their thoughts and ideas before writing. They also work well as standalone oral activities that allow students to practice their persuasive speaking skills and all that entails.
A COMPLETE TEACHING UNIT ON PERSUASIVE WRITING SKILLS
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what is an argumentative essay
An argumentative essay, also known as a discussion, presents both sides of the argument on a specific topic so the audience can form their own opinion.
STRUCTURE OF AN ARGUMENTATIVE ESSAY
CLARITY Choose a clear, firm and debatable topic, and stress its importance. There should be no confusion about what or what you are writing about or why.
PROVIDE CONTEXT A bit of background information is often needed early in the essay to understand the argument. Bring your audience up to speed on the topic.
ORDER Use sequential paragraphs or statements. Keep things in order by creating paragraphs that lead us from opinion A to opinion B through well-crafted segways and transitions.
RESEARCH Nothing will sink your essay faster than a poorly researched paper full of questionable “facts” and ill-informed opinions. Get your evidence straight.
LOGICAL & RATIONAL You are not a “shock jock” or a biased blogger. You are presenting both sides of an argument to let your readers make a decision.
FEATURES OF AN ARGUMENTATIVE ESSAY
IMPERSONAL VOICE Keep your own opinions out and let your audience form their own.
TENSE Discussions are usually written in present tense.
LOGICAL CONNECTIVES Use terms such as therefore and however to connect concepts and points of contention.
RESPECTED SOURCES Valued information comes from respected sources. Ensure you use reputable evidence.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN AN ARGUMENTIVE ESSAY AND A PERSUASIVE ESSAY?
These styles of writing are often confused, and whilst they do share common elements, they are two separate genres with different purposes. If you are looking for a complete guide to writing a persuasive essay, please view ours here.
- A PERSUASIVE ESSAY presents EMOTION, and the author’s purpose is to try and CONVINCE YOU to think as they do. It is about the sales pitch more so than an emphasis on the specifications and details of the subject area.
- An ARGUMENTATIVE ESSAY presents EVIDENCE and LOGIC at its core. Whilst you are still trying to influence your readers’ thinking on a given topic, you shouldn’t pull on your reader’s heartstrings nearly as much as presenting a mountain of facts, data and specifics that cannot be ignored.
POINTS TO CONSIDER BEFORE WRITING YOUR ESSAY
PICK YOUR POISON WISELY: CHOOSING DISCUSSION TOPICS
The beauty of incorporating discussion and argument into the classroom is that you can quickly build your lessons around the student’s interests. From the youngest students in elementary to those wizened old owls in high school, a quick class brainstorm will reveal a wealth of juicy topics for them to get their mental teeth into. In this day and age of political correctness, however, be sensitive to the selection of a topic for discussion appropriate to the demographics of your class. While controversial topics can lead to the most lively of discussions, it is best to avoid subjects too close to the bone that may cause deep rifts in the class dynamic. If in doubt, rather than take suggestions from the class, have some exciting topics pre-prepared for the students to choose from or to vote on.
You can find numerous topics on the web, but here are some to get you started…
- All zoos should be shut down, and the animals should be returned to the wild. – Discuss
- Mobile phones should be embraced as learning tools in the classroom. – Discuss
- Parents have different expectations for their sons and daughters. – Discuss
- Do we give children too many trophies? – Discuss
- Is it ethical to eat meat? – Discuss
- School canteens promote poor diets. – Discuss
- Can money buy happiness? – Discuss
- Is animal testing justified? – Discuss
- Are we too dependent on computers? Discuss
- Do violent video games and films create social problems? – Discuss
GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT: DO YOUR RESEARCH
The challenge in writing a good discussion or argumentative essay is to be open-minded, even if you know which side you want to support.
Factual research and evidence are your number one tool. It gives you credibility by sourcing knowledge from experts but more importantly, it gives your own opinions and ideas greater weight as you have demonstrated a broad and accurate understanding of the topic you are writing about.
be sure to spend some time researching your topic before writing about it, and make sure you reference where you have sourced this knowledge.
Most students will head straight for the internet to find their evidence, so ensure you understand how to use it correctly. This poster demonstrates how to get the most out of the three major search platforms on the web. You can download the free poster version of it here.
An Argumentative Essay Outline
The aim of a well-written discussion text is to present information and opinions that express more than one viewpoint. This will often take the form of a newspaper report or a leaflet. Regardless of the genre of the writing undertaken, however, some common factors apply to most discussion texts. Most often, they are written in the present tense and are commonly structured in the following way:
No better place to begin than at the start. The title should typically be a general statement or even a question that draws attention to a specific issue. For example, Should cell phones be banned in schools?
The introduction section itself should usually be relatively brief and open with a brief statement on the issue and provide some background to the issue to be discussed. It will outline the arguments to be reviewed ahead, but the introduction itself does not usually contain any of the student’s opinions or views on the topic in question. There are, however, several things to consider when writing the introduction.
As with any genre of writing, it is essential to grab the reader’s attention from the outset, and discussion texts are no different. Fortunately, there are several tried and tested methods of achieving this. Here are a few that may be suitable openers for your students’ discussion writing:
● open with a quotation relevant to the topic being addressed. A well-chosen quotation can grab the attention of even the most distracted of readers and compel them to read more!
● a surprising fact is another excellent way to grab the reader’s attention and illuminate the topic to be discussed. Not only is it engaging, but informative too!
● a joke. Everyone loves a laugh, and a joke can provide an excellent in to the student’s writing. But, encourage your students to be careful here; the suitability of a humorous opening will largely depend on the topic being discussed. As jokes may not always be appropriate to the material, they must be used wisely.
In writing a balanced argument, students must consider the positives and negatives of the issue. The body of the text should be focused on presenting the pros and cons, the for and against arguments, relating to the central issue. This is why oral starter activities can be so valuable as prewriting exercises.
After the student has laid out the topic in their introduction by providing the necessary background information, it is time for the student to consider laying out the case for the argument.
Using time connectives is an excellent way for students to organize their information. Adverbs of time, such as firstly, secondly, next, then etc. and phrases such as, in addition to, therefore etc., can help students structure their information chronologically and coherently.
Depending on the length of the text, it is typically recommended that each paragraph consists of a single point. It is important to remind students that in the presentation of a balanced argument, they should not express their own bias or even their own point of view, instead, they are laying out both sides of the argument for the reader and should give equal weight to each point of view. When exploring each point, whether for or against, the PEE method can be a helpful way to aid students in structuring their paragraphs and give the direction of their argument:
Be sure to check out our own complete guide to writing perfect paragraphs here.
P = Point (Student makes their point at the beginning of the paragraph)
E = Evidence (Student provides evidence that underpins this point)
E =Explain (Student explores point further and ties back to the central issue)
When the student has considered each of their points for the argument, for example, three separate paragraphs each making three points for the argument, it is now time to consider and do the same for the argument against. The purpose here is to set up an opposition to the previously made points; to offer the other side of the story.
Encourage students here to use words and phrases that set up this contrast, for example, however, contrastingly, on the other hand, etc. Displaying these words and phrases in a word bank can also be a great way to help weaker students to organize their writing.
In the conclusion, the student reviews the information, summarises the arguments made and weighs up the issue in light of the available evidence. At this point, students can offer their own opinion in favor or against the issue at hand, but only if it is appropriate to the genre of the discussion text.
Students often find it difficult to know how to end their writing. One excellent way to finish their discussion is to end it with a question, a challenge to the readers to form their own opinion on the issue in light of the evidence that has been presented.
TIPS FOR WRITING A GREAT ARGUMENTATIVE ESSAY
- Make sure you clearly explain the topic to the audience before you get into taking sides.
- When you have selected a topic, ensure that you research both sides of the argument thoroughly before writing.
- In your conclusion, make it clear which side of the argument you side on, even make a recommendation but allow the reader to keep an open mind.
- Keep everything in order.
- List all the items that will be required to complete the task.
- Use paragraphs effectively. Each new argument should start with a new paragraph.
- Keep your arguments short, sharp and to the point.
- Use the correct language and terms.
ORAL ACTIVITIES TO GET IN THE ‘DISCUSSION’ ZONE
ORAL ACTIVITY 1: PROS AND CONS
This great warm-up exercise allows students to explore a topic, weigh up the different possible opinions, and even offers a chance for the student to discover what they think about a topic. This exercise can also serve as a fantastic prep exercise for a piece of extended writing and involves minimal prep.
Pros and Cons involve students making a list of a given topic’s pro and con arguments. This is often best done in small groups where the students can brainstorm together and bounce ideas off one another. The process of comparing the for and against of an issue gives them an awareness of the range of opinions on the matter, helping them on their way to forming their own opinion.
The list created during this activity can also provide a helpful outline that can work as a springboard for later writing. It is a great way to organize ideas coherently that can seamlessly feed into the writing process described later below.
BY LISTING POINTS AND COUNTERPOINTS TOGETHER, STUDENTS GET INTO THE PRACTICE OF DEVELOPING A NUANCED AND CONSIDERED ARGUMENT RATHER THAN PRODUCING MERE PROPAGANDA. THIS HELPS THEM INTERNALIZE THE IMPORTANCE OF GIVING FULL CONSIDERATION TO A RANGE OF DIFFERING OPINIONS ABOUT THE SAME TOPIC.
ORAL ACTIVITY 2: THINK – PAIR – SHARE
This activity requires almost zero prep, other than giving the class a topic to get their teeth into!
First, have the students think silently about the topic for a minute or two. They may scratch down doodles or brief notes of their ideas on a piece of paper to use in the discussion portion of this exercise, but this is not a writing activity!
Then, partner them up with another student. At this stage, you may consider differentiation; you may wish to match students with other students of equal ability or with a stronger one as support. Either way, students discuss the topic with their partners for a predetermined number of minutes. The length of time will be dictated by the students’ ages and abilities. Experiment to find the most suitable length of time for your class.
After the time is up, students can share their opinions with the class. You can also scribe the ideas generated by each group onto a master list displayed on the whiteboard as part of a pre-writing exercise. This can also be an excellent exercise to begin the preparation for a formal debate, as it affords the students opportunities to think on their feet, engage with differing opinions, and to work on public speaking skills such as body language.
ORAL ACTIVITY 3. SPEED-DATING FUN
This is a pacy, fun activity to get a lively conversation going in a manner that apes the popular speed dating format – but with a more virtuous intent! You can organize the desks in rows facing each other or in concentric circles in the middle of the classroom.
Choose one row or circle to be mobile. Give students a list of topics to discuss and start the clock. After three minutes or so, signal the time is up and instruct students to move to the following table. At the next station, they can either discuss the same topic or move on to the next topic on their list.
Of course, you may shorten or lengthen the allotted time based on the student’s abilities or the complexities of the topics. However, as this exercise works best in fun and fast-paced, and the aim is for each student to have the opportunity to speak with every other student, it is often best to keep the topics fairly straightforward. Questions like Is it better to live in the town than the country? or Do dogs make better pets than cats? work well here.
THE IMPORTANCE OF DISCUSSION IN THE CLASSROOM
The discrete teaching of discussion and argument in the classroom is essential. It offers students invaluable opportunities to test their opinions and ideas with their peers in a safe environment. Students learn that disagreement is inevitable and not fatal! They learn, too, that it is okay to revise an opinion in the light of compelling evidence they had not previously considered.
Discussion is a proving ground for ideas. Ideas tested in the arena of classroom discussion will likely be expressed much more coherently in written form. Often, students are not fully aware of exactly how they think on an issue until they have had a chance to try out their embryonic ideas with each other in a public discussion. It also helps students avoid the dangers of the echo chamber of their minds where frequently their ideas existed without challenge.
Encouraging our students to engage in respectful and productive disagreement is perhaps one of the most important skills we can help them develop.
AUTHENTIC ASSESSMENT OPPORTUNITIES
Discussion activities offer tremendous opportunities for some informal assessment that helps with planning to best meet the needs of your students in future lessons. The fact that they are not teacher-led gives the teacher a chance to take a backseat and give full attention to the students’ conversations. This allows you to spot areas of difficulty and gaps in learning – all valuable information that will be priceless for effective future lesson planning.
Use our resources and tools to improve your student’s writing skills through proven teaching strategies.
The first task in writing an excellent argumentative essay is finding a suitable topic with solid and valid opinions for both sides of the argument. You will find some engaging writing prompts below.
structure of argumentative essay
sample argumentative essay
Below are a collection of student writing samples of discussions. Click on the image to enlarge and explore them in greater detail. Please take a moment to read them in detail, and the teacher and student guide highlight some of the critical elements of discussions to consider before writing.
Please understand these student writing samples are not intended to be perfect examples for each age or grade level but a piece of writing for students and teachers to explore together to critically analyze to improve student writing skills and deepen their understanding of writing a discussion.
We would recommend reading the example either a year above or below, as well as the grade you are currently working with to gain a broader appreciation of this text type.
ARGUMENTATIVE ESSAY WRITING CHECKLIST & RUBRIC BUNDLE
VIDEO TUTORIALS ON WRITING AN ARGUMENTATIVE ESSAY / DISCUSSION
OTHER GREAT ARTICLES RELATED TO WRITING AN ARGUMENTATIVE ESSAY
Learn how to teach the fundamentals of persuasive writing in just five days with these lesson plans, tools, resources and teaching strategies to improve your student’s persuasive essay. We provide the solutions to answering what a persuasive text is? How to use persuasive language and techniques and advice for teachers and students about persuasive and opinion writing.
The content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh. A former principal of an international school and English university lecturer with 15 years of teaching and administration experience. Shane’s latest Book, The Complete Guide to Nonfiction Writing, can be found here. Editing and support for this article have been provided by the literacyideas team.