Category Archives: Argumentative Writing

SCSSA Presentation

Here is a presentation I did on Saturday, October 17, 2015 for the Southern California Social Science Association in beautiful Burbank, California. I also provided an archive of argumentative writing resources via Pearl Trees.

http://www.slideshare.net/mrpetri/slideshelf

Argumentative Writing Notes

This presentation focused on the work of Hillocks, Fletcher, and Heinrichs. Hillocks offers teachers a common vocabulary to use consistently with students. Fletcher uses Loop Writing and the Believing/Doubting game to get students examine both sides of an argument. I have adapted her methods for a social studies lesson. MEAL paragraphs allow teachers to give students daily practice in argument writing. Teachers who want additional ideas about teaching argumentation should consult Heinrichs’ Thank You For Arguing.

Hillocks

The process of working through an argument is the process of inquiry. At its very beginning is the examination of data, not the invention of a thesis statement in a vacuum.

Claims are almost never substantiated. 4 out of 5 dentists recommend… A literary critic must cite the works discussed and quote from the texts to prove a claim. A historian must carefully note the artifactual or documentary evidence basic to the argument being made.

Without analysis of any data (verbal and nonverbal texts, materials, surveys and samples), any thesis is likely to be no more than a preconception or assumption or clichéd popular belief that is unwarranted at best and, at worst, totally indefensible.

Warrants may be common sense rules that people accept as generally true, laws, scientific principles or studies, and thoughtfully argued definitions. Two claims can be made viewing the Furigay illustration: It was suicide. It was murder.

Approach the teaching of argument from the examination of data, as a first step. Once we have examined data to produce a question and have re-examined the data to try to produce an answer to the question, we may have a claim or thesis worthy of arguing. If the data support our answer to the question, it becomes evidence in support of the claim we make.

  1. Examine data
  2. Ask questions based on data
  3. Reexamine data
  4. Try to answer the questions
  5. Data that supports our answer = Evidence

DBQs do this in a limited way. Most students struggle when characterizing primary sources and don’t understand how to apply the evidence within them. Students need shorter, more frequent, and lower-stakes writing tasks to learn how to write arguments.

Fletcher

Asking students to write the thesis first is putting the cart before the horse. It’s hard to ask a question about an on-going conversation when you don’t listen to the conversation first. – Carol Jago (Fletcher forward).

Loop Writing uses five-minute timed unveilings. Each prompt ups the ante a little. Should burning the flag be protected under the First Amendment? Does the death penalty violate the Eighth Amendment? The “loop method” encourages deeper thinking about a topic as well as intellectual engagement. Purpose of Loop Writing is to examine one issue in depth to move past superficial understandings and develop a sophisticated or new perspective on the issue.

Playing The Believing & Doubting Game

  • We suspend all judgment and give the writer the benefit of the doubt.
  • Most students have this non-critical approach to reading their History book.
  • Listening to a text (close reading – RLH) and postponing judgment requires more effort than analyzing texts. We need to temporarily try the writer’s ideas on for size.

Playing the Believing Game/Doubting Game with the Declaration of Independence might enable students to carefully look through Jefferson’s arguments about separating with England. It would also be interesting to do it with the arguments in Thomas Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense.

Points to Remember

  1. Academic writing begins with academic reading. Most of our students do not have enough background knowledge to write a strong argument. They need help gathering and organizing information.
  2. Argumentation involves asking and answering questions.
  3. A well-developed questioning habit is a key trait of college-ready writers.

Prompts to Deepen Student Thinking

  1. How do you know if something is true or only an opinion?
  2. How do you decide if something is better or worse than something else?
  3. Describe a time when you decided something was more important than something else. How did you reach that decision?
  4. Describe a time when you were able to see something from a different point of view. What helped you to understand a new perspective?

Playing The Doubting Game

The object of this game is disbelief. These questions prompt a mistrust of the text:

  1. Does the writer say anything that bothers me?
  2. Are any of the writer’s claims unsupported?
  3. Does the writer draw any dubious conclusions?
  4. Does the writer contradict him/herself?
  5. Do I disagree with any of the writer’s claims or assumptions?
  6. Are there any reasons not to trust this writer?
  7. Does the writer leave anything out?

WWII MEAL Paragraphs

MOOC Logos

This is a follow-up from an earlier post and video lecture explaining how to use MEAL paragraphs as routine writing tasks that help students build stronger body paragraphs. Many classes start with a  “Warm Up” that is used to hook students into the lesson, or in this case textbook. In order to use MEAL paragraphs in this fashion, the instructor merely needs to pose an arguable question that requires students to take a position, then find three pieces of textual evidence and explain how the evidence supports their main idea. Finally, they link their evidence and analysis back to the main idea of the paragraph. For these examples, my questions were: (1) Was Operation Overlord a triumph of planning or a lucky break? and (2) Should island hopping be considered a success or failure?

Op Overlord_MEAL

This student does an adequate job with the MEAL format, below you can see their main idea highlighted in yellow. It is indeed a thesis that takes a position on the question and provides three reasons. I am eager to read on. Unfortunately, when highlighting the evidence in turquoise, I realize this writer only provides two pieces of evidence for their thesis. I hunt for textual evidence that the allies have succeeded in completing the first part of their plan, but I can’t find any. Therefore, I stop reading. This is not the perfect MEAL paragraph.

So unfortunate. This student had a strong thesis, solid analysis, and even restated their thesis at the end of their paragraph. They just needed to include one more piece of evidence to get the points on this quickwrite.

Ovrlrd Evidence

Island Hopping_MEAL

The next student sample on island-hopping is similarly well-organized. The main idea is highlighted in yellow. The evidence is highlighted in turquoise. The analysis is in green and the thesis is restated at the end of the paragraph in purple. Aside from a slight redundancy in swimming to shore and fighting the Japanese in trenches (not factual), this author has created a solid MEAL paragraph.

This sample can be used as a mentor text when showing students how to write MEAL paragraphs. I have found some students will copy your model word for word, so it helps to have a supply of examples that aren’t on the topic you are asking your students to write about.

Island Hopping

MEAL paragraphs should be an arrow in every effective educator’s quiver. Students who repeatedly write MEAL paragraphs gain extensive practice in identifying and explaining textual evidence. You will see an immediate improvement in their writing. Please feel free to leave any comments about integrating MEAL paragraphs into your everyday classroom practices.

Final Research Papers

A study from The Concord Review found that 62% of teachers never assign a paper of 3,000-5,000 words in length, and 81% never assign a paper of over 5,000 words.

Cold War Research Paper

For this project, students combine three of their in-class writing assignments into a five-page (1,250 word) paper that argues: (1) which side was most responsible for the Cold War, (the Soviets, or the West); (2) elaborates on which events defined the Cold War; and (3) describes how the Cold War should be remembered in textbooks. Students will support their positions with evidence from the documents provided and independent research.

Imprtnce of Rsrh Ppr

Use parenthetical citations, i.e., (Cold War Causes, Handout 1), (Soviet Textbooks DBQ, BGE), or (Containment DBQ, Doc. A), and include a Works Cited page at the end of your paper. For your final grade, you will provide a one-page revision memo, a typed final draft on top of the original drafts, and four www.PaperRater.com reports all stapled together. Save this project in your Google Drive and use it for your senior portfolio.

Fitzhugh_Sources

Section One

Which side was most responsible for the Cold War, the Soviets or the West? Include an introductory paragraph that contains background on the Cold War and a thesis statement that takes a position. Explain the three main underlying causes of the Cold War and who was most responsible for the Cold War. Justify this decision by explaining who was least responsible. Include evidence from at least three documents to support your ideas and explain how the evidence proves your point. Lastly, provide a concluding thought that reconnects with your thesis.

Section Two

How did the United States prevent the Soviet Union from expanding communism? After reading about multiple Cold War events (Long Telegram, Berlin Airlift, Korean War, and Cuban Missile Crisis), define the US Cold War foreign policy and describe three instances where containment was used. Choose which example was the most significant and explain your reasoning.

Section Three

Describe how the Cold War should be remembered in future textbooks. Which Soviet accomplishments and which US accomplishments should be included in future history textbooks? Explain your reasoning. Conclude the paper with some final thoughts on what lessons the global community should learn from the Cold War between the US and the Soviets.

Revision Memo

The one-page revision memo should explicitly report how you addressed the feedback from your PaperRater reports. For example, “PaperRater gave me a 63% on Academic Vocabulary. I went back to the background essay, found five more vocabulary words and defined them in my introductory paragraph and my next PaperRater Academic Vocabulary score was a 71%.”

Next it should highlight significant changes and point out where the final essay improved from the first drafts. The purpose of revision memos is to help you become better at revising your writing. When you write a revision memo, the following points must be included:

  1. It is addressed to me.
  2. It points out what your focus was on this draft.
  3. It lists the strengths and weaknesses in your previous drafts.
  4. It details the changes you’ve made from one draft to the next.
  5. It describes your overall impression of the revision (strengths and weakness).

Each of these points must be in the memo. Typically, memos run anywhere from one to three pages in length.

The final paper should include page numbers on the bottom right-hand side of the page, be formatted in Times New Roman 12 point font, double-spaced with one-inch margins. The final document should contain a cover page and be turned in before the end of school on Friday, May 15, 2015. This entire project, which began on March 20th is worth 700 points of your final grade.

CA State Standard: 10.9.2 Students analyze international developments in the post-WWII world. Analyze the causes of the Cold War with the free world and Soviet states on opposing sides. Describe the competition for influence in Germany, Korea, and Vietnam.

Common Core Writing Standards: 1. Students will write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence. 5. Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach. 10. Write routinely over extended time frames with time for research, reflection, and revision.

Sample Paper

Sample Revision Memo

Grading Rubric

Soviet Textbooks Essay

Soviet Txbks

What should be remembered in Soviet textbooks? Describe three achievements that should be included in Soviet textbooks. Support your reasoning with evidence from the documents: (A) Geographic Expansion; (B) Socio-Economic Accomplishments; (C) Great Terror; (D) Political Repression; (E) Military Strength; (F) Space Achievements; (G) Olympic Victories; and (H) Ballet & Cultural Achievements.

Thesis Statement Planning

Soviet textbooks should include: ____________, _____________, and _______________.

In 69 years as a country, the Soviet Union accomplished many great things, _________, _________, and _________; should be included in their textbooks to remember this time in history.

_________, ___________, and _____________ show that communism was capable of producing greatness, this paper will argue that the Soviet Union’s Cold War accomplishments should be included in their textbooks.

Outline

  1. Intro
    1. Background on the Cold War (czar, Bolshevik, capitalism, socialism, communism, Cold War, Stalin, Krushchev, Gorbachev, Sputnik, republics, satellites, and Bolshoi)
    2. Definition of terms
    3. Thesis statement
  2. MEAL paragraph – Accomplishment # 1
    1. M – Main Idea: Topic Sentence
    2. E – Evidence: Proof Found in Primary Source/Book/Research
    3. A – Analysis: How The Evidence Proves the Main Idea
    4. L – Link: How a Paragraph Fits in to what the paper is trying to prove.
  3. MEAL paragraph – Accomplishment # 2
    1. M – Main Idea: Topic Sentence
    2. E – Evidence: Proof Found in Primary Source/Book/Research
    3. A – Analysis: How The Evidence Proves the Main Idea
    4. L – Link: How a Paragraph Fits in to what the paper is trying to prove.
  4. MEAL paragraph – Accomplishment # 3
    1. M – Main Idea: Topic Sentence
    2. E – Evidence: Proof Found in Primary Source/Book/Research
    3. A – Analysis: How The Evidence Proves the Main Idea
    4. L – Link: How a Paragraph Fits in to what the paper is trying to prove.
  5. Conclusion
    1. Summarize rationale – Accomplishments 1, 2 & 3 show…
    2. Recap evidence
    3. Restate thesis

In-Text vs. Parenthetical Citations

Document A shows the incredible size of the Soviet Union and its satellite countries. This suggests that …

Poland was an East European satellite country of the Soviet Union (Document A).

Evidence-based Sentence Starters

Based on this evidence, it appears that _____________________.

This quote suggests that ______________________.

When viewing the map, it is evident that _____________.

This source reveals how US policy makers thought about ___________________.

This timeline illustrates how ____________________________.

This passage provides some insight into the nature of __________________________.

Containment Essay

containmentContainment Essay Prompt:

Define the US policy of containment. Discuss three instances of containment from the documents and argue which serves as the best example of containment and which serves the worst example of containment. Evaluate whether containment was an effective or ineffective policy. Be sure that you use in-text or parenthetical citations when you use evidence from the documents.

Thesis Statement Planning

Three examples of Containment are: ____________, _____________, and _______________.

The Cold War lessons in containment have been demonstrated by _________, _________, and _________; when evaluating these lessons, it is clear that…

_________, ___________, and _____________ provide historians with instances of the US Policy of containment, this paper will argue that ____________ is a strong example of containment, while ____________ is a weaker illustration of containment.

Outline

  1. Intro
    1. Background on the Cold War
    2. Definition of Containment
    3. Thesis statement
  2. Strongest example of containment
    1. Evidence from document
    2. Claim
    3. Counter-claim
    4. Explanation of how this supports thesis
  3. Weakest example of containment
    1. Evidence from document
    2. Claim
    3. Counter-claim
    4. Explanation of how this supports thesis
  4. Evaluation was containment a good or bad US policy
    1. Historical factors
    2. Link to thesis
  5. Conclusion
    1. Summarize argument
    2. Recap evidence
    3. Restate thesis

Evidence-based Sentence Starters

Based on this document, it appears that _____________________.

This document suggests that ______________________.

When viewing the map, it is evident that _____________.

This source reveals how US policy makers thought about ________________.

This timeline illustrates how ____________________________.

This quote provides some insight into the nature of __________________________.

Lastly, here are some videos that help you understand the documents better.

Background Essay

http://www.teachertube.com/viewVideo.php?video_id=336174

Document A – Long Telegram

http://www.teachertube.com/viewVideo.php?video_id=336173

Long Telegram Quiz Answers

http://www.teachertube.com/viewVideo.php?video_id=335963

Document B – Berlin Airlift

http://www.teachertube.com/viewVideo.php?video_id=336172

Document C – The Korean War

http://www.teachertube.com/viewVideo.php?video_id=336178

Document D – The Cuban Missile Crisis

http://www.teachertube.com/viewVideo.php?video_id=336177

Video Game Review

Extra-Credit History-based Video Game Review

Valiant Hearts, Mission-US, Call of Duty, Civilization, Age of Empires, Medal of Honor, Soldiers: Heroes of WWII, Axis and Allies, and The Calm and The Storm: these games have sold millions of copies, yet most History teachers have never played even one of them. Are video games a waste of time and energy? Can video games teach us History? Niall Ferguson, a prominent historian thinks so, read his argument, however, please understand that other researchers urge caution about the appropriateness of video games for certain ages and purposes.

Next, identify the state standard involved in the game you have selected. Then review a history-based video game in at least 500 words. Argue that the experience has taught you something meaningful about history. Your review should describe the story at the heart of the game, link the historical content in the game to your textbook, and describe how it confirms or contradicts what we have studied in class.

family-playing-video-game-console

Other ideas to put in your review

  1. Comment on the historical accuracy, or inaccuracies in the game as well as the level of difficulty in playing it.
  2. How many hours did you spend playing it? How many hours will it take to become a good player?
  3. Who would benefit from playing this game? Age? Demographics?
  4. How could the author target that audience?
  5. Report on who published the game. What other games have they made? How many copies have been sold?
  6. How much does the game retail for?  Where can you get the best deal on it?

Make sure this review follows the traditional essay format. Your teacher will submit the best reviews for publication in the school newspaper.

Outline of traditional essay format to use in your review

  1. Catchy title
    1. Grabber
    2. Background
    3. Definition of key terms
    4. Grand Thesis & roadmap
  2. Mini-thesis #1 (The best part about this game is…)
    1. evidence
    2. argument – explain
    3. link back to thesis
  3. Mini-thesis #2 (The worst part about this game is…)
    1. evidence
    2. argument – explain
    3. link back to thesis
  4. Mini-thesis # 3
    1. evidence
    2. argument – explain
    3. link back to thesis
  5. Conclusion
    1. Restate main idea
    2. Summarize key points.

You have between April 8 – May 1, 2015 to submit your review to http://www.PaperRater.com and you can improve it as many times as you want.

I will review your final draft along with the PaperRater report. You may submit them electronically to scottmpetri@gmail.com or print them out and hand them in during class.

Speech Non-Completers

After reading through all of the reflections my students wrote after their WW2 speech projects, I found their responses fell into three general categories: (1) falling on my sword, (2) recognizing our class culture, and (3) the laziness factor. Although an alarming number of student refused to read their speech in class, approximately, two-thirds of my students delivered in front of an audience. They saw good speakers, they saw nervous speakers, and they saw several awe-inspiring, incredibly charismatic speakers.

All students were asked to complete a 30-minute reflection describing how they approached the project.  A colleague, Bill Chapman (@classroomtools), asked me to analyze the reflections of the students who did not complete their speeches. I did not want to do this. I was ready to move on. After conducting this exercise, I am so grateful that Bill nudged me because I was ready to give up on some of these students. However, the act of reading and classifying the reflections pushed my thinking and I am ready to double-down on engaging these students (and parents) over the last few months of the school year.

Falling On My Sword

Deserve a 0

The “I deserve a zero” appeal was utilized by many students who had completed all of necessary the components for the speech, but then lacked the confidence to go up and perform it.  Quite a few of my students fell into this category. Many openly stated that they would rather earn the 100 extra-credit points for a Courage to Care essay assignment than go up and deliver their speech. In retrospect, perhaps these students deserve an A for cost-benefit analysis skills.

Falling on my sword

This student utilized what I call the “falling on my sword” approach. Perhaps by accepting blame, the teacher will have mercy on me? This brown-nosing skill will no doubt prove valuable later in life, but it is unlikely to help the student pass classes with firm deadlines. I am glad the student recognizes that it is still not too late to improve his grade. The consequence for not delivering the speech in class means that students now have to deliver the speech to me outside of classroom hours (at lunch or after school). At some point, this 9th grader will learn that it is easier to finish his work on time than to chase me all over campus.

Recognizing Our Class Culture

Partial Credit

This student has listened to my mantra of… turn in something, anything… most teachers will be forgiving and allow you to revise a poor assignment, but they will not allow you to do that if you miss the deadline and turn NOTHING in.  I have experienced this many times in my academic career. Teachers don’t want to hear excuses why you couldn’t do it, but show us you cared enough to put in some effort and we may just give you the benefit of extra time.

Acknowledging Time Factor

This student gets some bonus points for recognizing that we spent three weeks of class time on this project. They acknowledge that the assignment was important to everyone’s grade, yet despite this keen insight, they still didn’t do it. I guess admitting you have a problem is always the first step. This brings us to our next category.

The Laziness Factor

Laziness Cont

“Laziness is something that I am trying to permanently remove from my system” leapt off the page. A cogent thought from an articulate student capable of doing thoughtful, grade-level work.  A couple of things haunt me about this statement: (1) I have sat across from failing students and their parents countless times over the last decade of my teaching career. “He’s lazy,” say the parents, hoping I know the cure. The student nods “I’m lazy,” and adds a smile as if he’s now got an excuse for never doing any work. He has met and exceeded the parents’ low expectations. In truth, neither party knows how to solve the laziness question, which as it turns out is simply poor time management skills.  (2) Both the student and their parents seem to be equally powerless in solving the laziness problem. How can students learn that hard work leads to opportunity if the parents have not committed themselves to addressing this issue?

Procrastination

Here, the procrastination proclivity pops up again and reminds me that teaching time management is just as vital as teaching content. Assigning project-based work where the students have a degree of control over what and when they produce may do this type of student a disservice. Explicitly showing students (and some parents) how to use a calendar, how to block out time, and how to reward oneself with cell phone, computer, and/or video game time after steps in a project have been completed may be a starting point. Sending home phone call/text reminders through an automated service like Remind may reinforce time management skills and create habits that students could use for the rest of their lives. Does anyone else have ideas for solving this vexing problem?