Argumentative Essay Unit Middle School

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Teaching both tenth and twelfth grade presents its rewards and challenges. It is rewarding because I get to see so much growth and maturity in twelfth graders. It can be challenging when I just finish grading 50 tenth-grade argumentative essays at the end of the first semester only to turn around and grade 50 more twelfth-grade argumentative essays at the beginning of second semester.

The Purpose of Argumentative Writing

While the challenge is in the time it takes to grade the essays, the excitement is within teaching argumentative writing. The purpose of argumentative writing is to defend a position on a particular subject with the goal of persuading readers to accept or at least consider the argument.

Elements of Argumentative Writing

There are four big ideas to remember when teaching argumentative writing: claim, reasons, evidence, and counterclaim.

  • Claim – This is the main argument of the essay. It might also be called a thesis or thesis statement.

  • Reasons – These are the ideas that support the claim. In a traditional essay, there are at least three but this varies based upon grade level and complexity of the argument writing.

  • Evidence – These are the specific details in the argument writing. If students are conducting research, this is where the expert opinions would be included. If students are referencing data, it would be written here. If students are including examples, it would be included here. Any appeals a student used would be evident here.

  • Counterclaim – This is the other side of the issue. Addressing a counterclaim makes the student’s argument writing stronger.

Addressing Counterclaims

Students can address counterclaims a number of ways in argument writing. Here are some common approaches:

While it may be true that ____________; nevertheless, it turns out that ____________.

A common argument against this is ________, but _____________.

Skeptics may think that ____________, but ___________.

Focus Topics & Transitions in Argumentative Writing

Last November, I had the great pleasure of presenting at the National Council of Teacher’s of English Annual Convention with author, educator, and our special guest Core Grammar blogger, Dr. Beverly Ann Chin. In her presentation, Dr. Chin included the following questions to focus topics in persuasive writing:

  • Is the scope of my persuasive topic appropriate and manageable?

  • What is my thesis statement or claim?

  • What facts, examples, or details contribute to—or detract from—my persuasive topic?

  • How do my topic sentences and transitional devices help the audience see the unity and coherence in my persuasive writing?

  • Do the main ideas and supporting ideas address my audience’s questions about the persuasive topic?

The questions Dr. Chin shared during her presentation should also be asked when writing argumentative essays. Keeping in mind topic sentences and transitions, here are some key words that can help support students as they begin to write argumentatively.

To connect the first paragraph to the second paragraph, use phrases such as To begin with, In the first place, or The first reason.

To connect the second paragraph to the third paragraph, use phrases such as Additionally, Another reason why, or Next.

To connect the third paragraph to the fourth paragraph, use phrases such as Lastly, Yet another reason why, or Also

The conclusion also needs a transition, so remind students to use phrases such as In conclusion, To sum it up, or In the final analysis.

Graphic Organizer for Argumentative Essays

Argumentative writing is powerful and important. I've created two worksheets for download that can assist students in their argumentative writing.

The first is a graphic organizer to capture students’ thinking about a claim, reasons, and evidence. The second is a poster/tip sheet to remind students about the elements of argumentative writing. Download them now!

To read more about writing and revision, download Dr. Chin’s Teaching Meaningful Revision: Developing and Deepening Students’ Writing eBook!





Teaching Students the Many Purposes of Writing

Informative/Explanatory Writing In the Classroom

Teaching Narrative Writing in the Classroom

Teaching Persuasive Writing in the Classroom


Evidence-Based Argument
Lesson plans and teaching resources

200 Prompts for Argumentative Writing
Prompts by category for the student who can't think of anything to write about.

Are You My Mother? An Opinion Writing Unit
This 5-lesson unit uses the Langston Hughes poem "Mother to Son" and a portrait to emphasize facts and opinions. Includes writing task. Designed for grade 2.

The Classical Argument
Handout detailing introduction, narration, confirmation, refutation and concession, and summation. Two pages, Adobe Reader required.

Decoding text types: One of these things is not like the others
This blog explains the difference between opinion writing, persuasive writing, and argument.

Developing Evidence-Based Arguments from Texts
This guide provides teachers with strategies for helping students understand the differences between persuasive writing and evidence-based argumentation. Students become familiar with the basic components of an argument and then develop their understanding by analyzing evidence-based arguments about texts. Students then generate evidence-based arguments of texts using a variety of resources. Links to related resources and additional classroom strategies are also provided. Designed for grades 6-12.

Evaluating an Argument: Chevy Volt Commercials
This activity introduces students to analyzing an argument.

Five Ways of Looking at a Thesis
Using The Princess Bride and other works as models, this page presents five aspects of a good thesis statement.

I Don’t Think So: Writing Effective Counterarguments
In this lesson students analyze the work of winners of the New York Times Learning Network's 2014 Student Editorial Contest as well as professional models from the Times editorial pages to learn how writers effectively introduce and respond to counterarguments. Then they write their own position pieces, incorporating counterarguments to strengthen their claims.

Identifying Voice
This 3-page handout asks middle school students to read an article, respond, and identify the voice. It includes a graphic organizer. Requires Adobe Reader or compatible application for access.

Logic in Argumentative Writing
This resource covers using logic within writing — logical vocabulary, logical fallacies, and other types of logos-based reasoning. Follow the links on the left for the complete resource. Part of the Online Writing Lab at Purdue University, this resource is appropriate for high school students and older.

Making an Argument: Effective use of Transition Words
Students explore and understand the use of transition words in context and write their own persuasive essay using transition words. Includes printable handout. This lesson is designed for grades 5-8.

The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere: Literature v. History
Over the course of three lessons the students will compare and contrast two different versions of one of the most iconic events in American history: the midnight ride of Paul Revere. The comparison will be made between the poem "Paul Revere’s Ride" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and a description of the event written by Paul Revere himself. Students will use textual evidence from these two sources to draw their conclusions and write an argumentative essay.

Narrative, Argumentative and Informative Writing About Baseball
Students read a New York Times article about the use of sabermetrics in radio broadcasts of baseball games. They write a persuasive response. This writing task is the second of four prompts here. Common Core Standards indicated. Don't miss the link to Abbot and Costello's "Who's on First?"

Position Papers
Links to strategies and prompts.

Pros and Cons of Controversial Issues
Looking for a resource that presents both sides of an issue? Try this one!

Researching the Argument
High school students develop research skills by investigating a case being heard by the Supreme Court.

Teaching Argument for Critical Thinking and Writing: An Introduction
This article discusses and provides a model for teaching argument. Adobe Reader required.

Teaching the Thesis Sentence
Five models designed by college instructors. Scroll down for 10 additional tips.

Simple Questions lead to Complex Learning
Questions about the value of a zoo lead to informational text, research-based writing, and critical thinking.

State of the Union Creative Assignment
Introduction and 5 activities supporting study of the State of the Union Address: edit the speech, support or defend one statement from the speech, evaluate the topics chosen, write a critical response, write a catch phrase.

A String of Beads
Through constructing a necklace students visualize a plan for including the central idea, supporting facts, and a clincher sentence in a paragraph.

Using an Op-Doc Video to Teach Argumentative Writing
Students learn how authors support an argument using different types of evidence. The class watches the Op-Doc "China's Web Junkies" (link included) and notes how the filmmakers build their argument. Designed for ninth grade.

Verification Junkie
A directory of tools for verifying, fact checking and assessing the validity of social media and user-generated content.

What's Your Fifth Element?
This writing assignment asks students to choose something that is important in this modern world and write an organized case that persuades others of their item's significance as a Fifth Element; helping the rest of us comprehend its "essential magnitude."

Writing an Argument
In addition to defining "argument," this site includes an exercise in avoiding logical fallacies.


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