Building an Argument
A Young ESL Writers' Workshop
Students examine the process of building an argument: they look at the thesis statement, the main supporting points, and the examples needed to complete a coherent argument. The first argument they examine is whether smoking should be banned in public places. Then, on their own, they try to build an argument for using public transportation.
Homework to be completed before class:
Have students complete the two vocabulary handouts titled Smoking and Public Transportation. This homework is essential because it helps them become familiar with the content and can serve as a mini-dictionary for them during the class.
Make a copy of Building an Argument for every student in the class.
Do not hand out the worksheet Building an Argument yet.
Go over the homework from last class (the two worksheets mentioned above). Then write the title of today's lesson, Building an Argument. If you taught Weighing an Argument, you may want to do some review first.
Write thesis statement on the board and explain what thesis statement means. Then write Thesis Statement: Smoking should be banned from public places on the board. Make sure the students understand what that means. Ask them if they agree or if they think it's a good idea.
Now divide the board into two and write the headings Supporting Points and Examples. Then ask the students why smoking should be banned from public places. They may give you a supporting point or an example (sometimes it's hard to distinguish). The teacher helps them fill out the board in a way similar to the handout (which they haven't seen yet).
When you have enough supporting points and examples hand out the worksheet titled Building an Argument. Compare the class discussion with what is written on the worksheet.
Have one student read the paragraph on banning smoking and then check that everybody understands the paragraph.
Go over the second page of the worksheet with connecting language. Briefly explain how each connecting phrase is used and then have the students go back to the paragraph and find all the examples of the connecting language.
Finally, write Thesis Statement: People should use public transportation on the board. The students will now do similar analysis of this issue on their own. The teacher will walk around the room providing help and suggestions.
For homework, you might want to have the students do a second paragraph with the thesis that alcohol causes many problems in society.
This lesson plan was prepared by Chris Gunn who teaches at a university in Korea.
Do vocabulary worksheets on smoking and public transportation.
Go over the homework.
Build an argument for banning smoking in public places..
Smoking should be banned from public places.
(1) Smoking is bad for health.
(2) Smoking bothers people.
(3) Smoking is dangerous.
(4) Smoking is dirty.
(5) Smoking influences teenagers.
Students build their own argument for using public transportation.
Sample Student Writing:
(done in class)
Building an Argument
by Rha KyoungHwa
middle school 3rd grade
Thesis statement: People should use public transportation.
Using public transportation is good for many reasons. First of all, cars waste time. Many people who drive cars spend time looking for parking and they get stuck in traffic jams. Also, cars waste space. They need many roads and parking lots. More importantly, public transportation is safe because every year thousands of people die in car accidents. Especially, our country has more accidents than any other country. Most of all, public transportation is cheap. For example, cars need gas, repairs, and tolls. And it costs a lot to buy a car. As well, public transportation is environmentally friendly. Cars, on the other hand produce smog and acid rain. It isn't good for our health either. And many trees are cut down to make roads and parking lots. In conclusion, we should use public transportation instead of cars.
When the purpose in writing is to persuade another of your opinion, using the correct logic and following the correct layout are very important, and your arguments, if not written clearly and with support, will fall flat. When it is time to walk your students through the process of persuasion, follow this guideline on the argumentative essay to achieve a convincing result.
When teaching a persuasive essay, you should make sure your students are clear on its purpose – to persuade or convince the reader that the position the writer takes is correct. This differs from other types of essays where the goal is to present information or show how something is similar to or different from something else. The persuasive essay is all about changing someone’s mind. Some topics are better suited to this type of essay, topics that can be logically argued with facts, examples, expert opinions or logical reasoning. Still, they must be a topic on which someone can take an opposing viewpoint. Some writers may be tempted to choose a matter of preference or faith, but these do not make good topics for the argument essay since it is highly unlikely the writer will be able to alter the beliefs of the reader, so encourage your students to stay away from issues of faith or preference, like ‘heaven is or isn’t real’ (since they cannot prove it,) and to gravitate toward questions they can support, such as ‘students should be able to choose their own college courses’.
Though making assumptions is usually a bad idea, your students should start the argument essay with some assumptions about their readers. Since convincing the reader is the primary purpose of the essay, your students need to think about the person for whom they are writing, their audience. Knowing the audience can make the difference between a tolerable and a compelling essay. Your students should assume that the writer disagrees with the positions they are taking on their topic but they should not assume that the reader unintelligent. There would be no purpose to writing this type of essay if the reader already agreed with the writer’s position, but if the writer treats the reader as though he is less intelligent, the piece will have a condescending and offensive tone throughout. It is also important that your students think about why the reader holds the opposite point of view. This will be very important when it comes to writing the refutation.
To prepare to write the persuasive essay, challenge your students to make two lists. One list should be reasons that they hold their opinion (or the pro side of the argument), and the other list should be reasons that the opposition holds their opinion about the issue (or the con side of the argument). If you are teaching a simple argument essay, the list of pros should be longer than the list of cons. If this is not the case, you may need to encourage your student to change to the other side of the argument.
Your students can start with any style introduction that seems most effective, but the body of the essay should be rather straightforward. The writer should choose between two and four of the most convincing arguments and write one paragraph about each. It is very important that he supports his opinion with objective proof – facts, statistics, typical examples, and opinions of established experts – and not just statements of his own beliefs and opinions. Without this type of support, the argument will not be convincing. If you are teaching advanced students, this might be a natural place to look at logical fallacies and how to avoid them in this type of essay. Once the body paragraphs are written, have your students arrange their arguments in order – weakest to strongest – and end with the most compelling of the arguments.
In this type of essay, just as important as arguing your points is arguing against the points of the opposition. When writing this type of essay, your students should not only show why they are right but also why the opposition is wrong. This part of the essay is called the refutation. Looking at the list of the reasons against their arguments, tell your students to choose the strongest point the opposite site might present. Then challenge them to think about why this argument is invalid. A strong refutation will address the argument and prove it is not logical, there is a better answer, or it is not true. Your students should spend one paragraph on the refutation, and it should come after the arguments in favor of their positions on the topic.
They will want to remind the reader of their points and end with a call to action. The overall tone of the essay should be logical and not emotional or manipulative. If your students are able to write this way, their essays will be convincing and effective.