This week in my masters multimedia class, we’re webquesting valuable open educational resources (OER). One, or rather two, of my favorite websites for teaching argumentation are procon.org and usnews.com/debate-club
At the high school, and especially at the eleventh grade level, our department focuses on argumentation and persuasive writing. (I’d bet most schools in Nebraska do, since 11th graders are assessed on their persuasive writing skills.)
Persuasive writing and argumentation is one of the most difficult forms of writing to teach. Not only do we expect students to use proper conventions, smooth sentence fluency, and powerful word choice, but we also expect to see critical–and coherent–thinking. In some assignments, we teachers throw in research on top of it, and we’re asking a heckuva lot from our kids.
Two websites I’ve used with students for persuasive research and writing are procon.org and usnews.com/debate-club. These sites provide objective information for both sides of controversial issues.
Procon.org provides evidence including direct quotes and statistics on 52 current issues, ranging from standardized tests to concealed handguns to the Keystone pipeline. Evidence is presented in small chunks, giving students the building blocks to build their arguments. Background information is also presented for each issue.
The Debate Club at US News and World Reports’ site is another argumentation site that I’ve used with students. The site hosts essays about dozens of topics ranging from JFK’s assassination to the US military role in Syria, and essays about a new topic are published weekly. Each week, essays by expert supporters and proponents of an issue are published, giving students several points of view.
Both sites are beneficial depending on the project. If you’re looking for students to take raw evidence and synthesize it, procon.org is your goto site. If you want to focus on critical reading of essays–and in the process, provide samples of persuasive writing that you expect students to perform–you can’t go wrong with the Debate Club.
This past November my business English seniors performed a debate for the culminating project of their persuasive unit. After an entire class voted on their favorite topic, I split them in half; half took the pro side, while the other half took the con side. They critically read essays from the Debate Club site, which provided them with possible arguments they could use in a debate–very beneficial with students who struggle with language. Some students researched other sources and websites to find more information that they hoped other students wouldn’t find.
Even if you expect students to find research from a variety of sites, Procon.org and the Debate Club are two fantastic sites that serve as springboards into controversial topics.