Technology Pursuit

Blending Technology Into the Language Arts Classroom

Tag: argument

Putting on the Gloves

It’s Debate Week!  The week we’ve been researching and writing for in Expository Writing class.  And in every debate this week, my students have impressed me in the way they’ve stood up, made a stand, used solid statistics and direct quotes to support their arguments, and most of all, awed me with their critical thinking skills.

It all started last fall when I attended a debate workshop at our state’s speech conference.  Persuasive writing is a huge focus in Nebraska high schools, since it’s the genre used to evaluate our eleventh graders.  And rather than just teaching students to write persuasively, the debate workshop made me realize how powerful that performance activity could be.

It’s Debate Week!  The week we’ve been researching and writing for in Expository Writing class.  And in every debate this week, my students have impressed me in the way they’ve stood up, made a stand, used solid statistics and direct quotes to support their arguments, and most of all, awed me with their critical thinking skills.

It all started last fall when I attended a debate workshop at our state’s speech conference.  Persuasive writing is a huge focus in Nebraska high schools, since it’s the genre used to evaluate our eleventh graders.  And rather than just teaching students to write persuasively, the debate workshop made me realize how powerful that performance activity could be.

Before I go any further, let me say in full disclosure that I took a semester of debate class in college.  I hated it.  The stress, the conflict–I dreaded each and every debate.

So I don’t expect every student to love it or even enjoy it.  However, I recognize that many of my students thrive off it, and those who don’t enjoy it have gained argumentation and presentation skills.

The class started with narrowing topics using Google Moderator, until they finally chose the death penalty, vaccines, and ipads.  Then they researched.  We used Google Scholar and studied academic articles.

Then they wrote two papers.  The first was an informative, objective piece covering both sides of their issue–a genre they found extremely challenging.  Then they focused on their debate arguments.  We analyzed a sample position paper, highlighting the organization (specifically the heavy use of direct quotations) and then they took off on their own arguments, producing the best writing I’ve seen from most of them.

If you haven’t caught on, I’m so proud of these young people.  They’re graduating in mere weeks–days, really–and yet they’re still pushing themselves.  In fact, one group that finished debates a day early elected to have one more impromptu debate.  The topic:  ham vs. turkey.

And let me tell you, this was the most creative yet critical thinking I’ve ever heard.  It was silly and fun, yet they used statistics and research straight off the internet as they debated.  They thought on their feet, collaborated with their team, and gave me a day I won’t soon forget.

Websites for Argumentation Writing in High School

Art & Design for Advocacy TrainingCreative Commons License IDEA iDebate via Compfight

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-logo-founded-2004

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.

debate-club

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.

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