Argument Writing in Second Grade By Jen Daigneault

Two weeks ago my class and I started our Argument Writing Unit.  I decided to start small and very controlled.  After reading All You Need For a Snowman by Alice Schertle, we listed all of the items identified in the book as “necessities” for making a snowman.  Since the kids have used the RAISE model consistently throughout the school year, I provided the graphic organizer with the question “What is the most important part of a snowman?”

To start, I showed a copy of the graphic organizer on the P-Board next to the list we compiled.  I intentionally chose an item from the book that wasn’t included on the list, “fanny pack”, and modeled how to create an Argument.  The kids were able to Restate and Answer the question easily.  With some guidance, we developed three thoughtful reasons a fanny pack is critical to a Snowman.

The next day we revisited the list we had created and the Argument we produced.  We discussed some possible reasons other items may be necessary for a snowman, but did not list them.  Each student received a graphic organizer and began writing.  They completed their initial draft in one day.

The next mini-lesson, we, once again, visited my Argument.  I introduced the transition words in fact and therefore and invited the class to share where they should be included.  The responses were limitless.  The kids had a great sense of where to place the words and how these words made the Argument more interesting.  I then asked them to reread their pieces and include the transition words.  Many of them were able to complete this task with little assistance.

The next day, I showed an example of the Argument Writing checklist and posted it next to my Argument on the P-Board.  We went through each item together to see if my piece met all of the expected requirements.  Each student was given an Argument Writing folder, checklist and their piece.  Using their writing, we went through each and every line.  At this point, the kids had the opportunity to edit their work.

On the final day, I gave each student a snowman writing paper and their self-edited piece.  Unlike their usual writing pieces, I did not make any editing marks.  They were required to complete the final piece independently.  You could have heard a pin drop when they were doing their rewrite.  Kids who typically fly through their work and are fine passing in a sloppy final copy worked diligently and neatly.

Overall, I was very happy with their final products.  The kids used their imaginations and produced interesting and thoughtful reasons why their item was the most crucial.  By breaking each step down, I feel they were able to get a better understanding of the steps needed to write an engaging piece.  It is my hope that they are able to transfer this to their next Argument writing piece.

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Argument Writing – Reflections from a HS English Teacher

Incorporating argument writing into a literature-driven curriculum is a stimulating task.  This year, with the eleventh grade, it was integrated into a unit on the literary genre / philosophical movement, romanticism.  To begin with the concept of romanticism was explored through discussion, pictures and music. Then students read various short stories by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe, and Washington Irving.  As we read each text the classroom discussion focused on not just what happened in the texts plot wise but what aspects of romanticism the texts employed.  Furthermore, students examined whether the texts reflected a straightforward romanticism or did they possess a darker undertone: were they, in fact, dark romantic or gothic texts.  In the past Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow has been screened as part of their final assessment.  In this assessment students were required to explain how Burton incorporates characteristics of romanticism into his version of Washington Irving’s story.  I wanted to do something slightly different this time that incorporated argument writing.

It was getting close to the holidays at this point and when I discussed what I was thinking with my Department head she suggested Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas directed by Henry Selick.  Although aimed at a younger audience, the text itself was sophisticated enough to provide ample comparisons to the texts the students studied.  It was also holiday appropriate!

The problem at this point became what are my students going to argue?  At about the same time as I was struggling with this we had our professional development meeting and part of the discussion we had was if, when, and how to effectively include student samples into the classroom. On the way home I picked up the movie from the library.  That night while screening the movie I took notes.  From the notes emerged a writing prompt:            Argue how a motif in the film Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas is incorporated into a particular aspect of the film (character, scenery, point of view, music) in a symbolic manner that reveals a larger meaning similar to a particular 19th century romantic or dark romantic text studied.

To prepare students for the task I created a study guide that they could fill out as they watched the film.  The study guide had sections for students to note instances of different motifs, including repeated use of shapes, lines, and colors.  It also had places they could fill in information about the characters, music, plot and setting.

The next day the study guide was handed out, explained and students began screening the movie. As they watched I reminded them to record examples of motifs, etc.  That first night I went home with my writing prompt and thought about the discussion of samples.  I would not have a sample to show the students as I had not done this before.  What exactly was I asking them?  I looked at the Common Core standards for argument writing.  I thought about what I would think of this as a student…. I then decided the best way for me to help my students understand what was required was to actually go through the process.  Hopefully, my sample would open up a dialogue about requirements, process and product.

To do this I selected a text I felt comfortable with and brainstormed commonalities between it and the movie.  After that I hand wrote my response.  Then I read it through, moved things around, restructured a few sentences, corrected my spelling, grammar and double checked my citations. At this point I typed it up and went through the same revision process again.  When I was satisfied I put it on the backside of the writing prompt and argument writing standards, had my department head preview it the next day (to make sure I was clear) and printed out copies for my students.

When the students completed viewing the movie we reviewed the study guide.  At this point I handed out the prompt / sample and went over it with them.  We discussed what the prompt meant.  I then shared my example and talked about the process I went through to produce it.  Students seemed interested and thoughtful about the whole endeavor (not always the response you get from eleventh graders in English class).  They were given both class time and time at home to work on the assignment.  As they worked in class I was able to conference with them about their writing.  They were required to turn in a rough draft, (several actually did a few) and when the final product was handed in I was pleasantly surprised.

Students created thoughtful, sophisticated arguments that analyzed particular aspects of both visual and written texts which reflected their knowledge of the literary genre romanticism.  Although not every student produced a perfect paper, a great majority produced work they should truly be proud of.  For me going through the process that the students would have to follow was eye opening.  I realized how hard it was to actually answer the prompt.  This helped me to articulate what I wanted the students to produce in a more effective manner.  I think that they also appreciated the fact that I had done what I was expecting them to do.  This created a dialog about what they were doing that put me in a much more approachable position.  They saw that I wasn’t just this person who knew everything about writing but struggled to create a meaningful text just like them.

NSHS English Teacher

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Argument Writing in Social Studies

Social Studies teachers routinely use both primary and secondary sources to have our students analyze historic events or perspectives.  Our students continue to write arguments to support claims through the use of clear reasons and relevant evidence. With the CCSS, they will also have to acknowledge alternate or opposing claims.

Throughout this year, my seventh and eighth graders have struggled with acknowledging the opposing claims. As we’ve practiced, I’ve tried to make sure the sources I’m using are specific, well-defined, and give students distinct arguments to choose from.

There are several great websites that have resources for CCSS & Social Studies; some specifically target Argument Writing.

The Library of Congress website allows teachers to search for lessons and primary sources by standard:

As an example, I searched for Grade 7 Language Arts, and focused on the Argument Writing piece, and these were my results:

The Gilder Lehrman Institute presents several lessons aligned to CCSS. Educators can register for a free membership to access the lessons. The primary sources offered on the site are easily adaptable for an argument piece:

History Blueprint, a site connected to the California History-Social Science Project, includes a blog with several ideas about primary sources. One example focuses on Abraham Lincoln’s changing viewpoints:

There is so much reading, writing, and analyzing that happens in Social Studies classes, it is easy to make connections between the RI Social Studies GSE’s and CCSS- especially with argument writing. From the completion of DBQ’s (Document-Based-Questions) to the examination of stand-alone primary sources, we participate in each step of Argument Writing. A speaker at a conference I attended called Social Studies a “Language Arts Enhancer”- and as our goals and expectations for our students become more connected, I think our students will be even more successful than they already are.

-Valerie Carnevale

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Open Source CCSS Resources

There are a gazillion CCSS resources out there in cyberspace calling for our attention.  Sifting through for the ones that you might like to use in your own classroom can be daunting.  I have spent a great deal of time in that “black hole” of the internet, getting lost in my searches.  Although I sometimes walk away wondering where the time went and what I really accomplished, there are times when I hit the proverbial jackpot.

One terrific resource is  This organization is creating open source CCSS units paid for by a grant.  That means anyone can use them and some of the work there is really impressive.  Although I don’t always love the texts they choose, the methodology and support materials they create for students are terrific and I find myself “borrowing” some parts for lessons I am already teaching.  You can use a unit from start to finish or you can pick and choose pieces that you want to try.

It is a good way to see what the professional curriculum writers think CCSS units should look like.  Whether or not we agree is another story…………….Tracey

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Super Resource to Bookmark!

I have been doing a lot of ‘surfing’ and am finding fabulous resources on the following website:

Just type ‘Argument Writing’ in the search bar. CCSS information for all of your Reading and Writing Needs.


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Things fall apart…

This year has been a huge learning curve. The thing that I found to be the most eye-opening was recognizing what students are capable of both at the elementary and middle school level.  As a high school teacher, we sometimes fall into the mindset that we, somehow work harder and that only our students produce sophisticated work.  Recognizing that students could articulate an argument persuasively at the second grade level was astonishing.  Seeing that students could produce a complex, highly organized, extended argument piece that integrated facts to support their response made me personally rethink what my students should be capable of producing at the eleventh grade.  Knowing that students where researching comprehensive topics at the middle school, where they were given topics, practice assessing material, and required to utilize counterclaims in their arguments made me wonder why my students were not doing this in eleventh or twelfth grade.

Having seen the work that younger children were producing when we did the sample argument at the end of last year – the reusable bags versus plastic bags prompt – made me approach this year feeling that I should really raise the bar as far as what I felt that the students should produce at the eleventh grade, which was the grade that I was focused on.  Early on I addressed what argument writing was; I screened short clips, we looked at the rubrics and check sheets, we analyzed what an argument should look like for their grade level as well as a few previous years.  I then assigned them an extended response argumentative essay on why the Salem Witch trials happened.

It all fell apart.

Few students built anything close to real arguments.  I had scaffolded the material.  I provided them with appropriate support material that could support an argument.  Some chose not to utilize support material – therefore they had no support for their arguments except their own ideas.  Few could analyze the material and separate out appropriate quotes that they could weave into their arguments.  If they did, in fact, have a counterclaim it sometimes undermined their own arguments. They seemed unable to document where their material was coming from.  Although organization was there in rudimentary form there was little that anticipated the audience’s knowledge level and concerns- there seemed to be little thought as to who the audience was in the first place.  This was very disheartening. Why could they produce complex arguments in second, fourth, seventh and eighth grades and not at the high school?  What was I doing wrong …?

After struggling to grade the resulting papers I decided to back track.  I stepped away from the fancy terminology and unfamiliar rubrics.  I then spent the rest of the year practicing analyzing texts.  What was the author’s argument I would ask.  Why did they (the author) think that way?  Does it reflect their (the author’s) upbringing?  Does it reflect the time they were writing in?  Does it reflect the culture they were a part of?  How do we find this information?  Go back to the text – what does it say exactly?  Why did the author utilize those particular words? What do the words mean?  What are their connotations and denotations?  Every class we would do this orally.

It got to the point where I would read a quote and they would identify who said it, why it was important to the text as a whole, which theme it tied into and why.  They could now, at least orally, argue how the author’s experiences and culture shape the texts they produced.

Finally, I had them produce a short writing piece that required them to make a claim about a theme in a text (in this case The Great Gatsby) and support it with appropriate textual evidence that is further bolstered by acknowledgement of both their own, and the text’s, strengths and weaknesses and that show a clear awareness of both the audience’s knowledge level and concerns.  The resulting constructed response arguments reflect a more refined and mature understanding of how to analyze and make clear their position on a particular topic.

What I learned, in the end, is that all teachers, in all levels work hard and are dedicated.  That all students, no matter how young, are capable of producing clever arguments that reflect their own beliefs and that sometimes it’s better to spend months subtly practicing a skill without the students being aware of it than intimidating them with fancy words, professional articles and unfamiliar rubrics.

Hannah Cevoli

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Calling All Content Areas and Grade Levels!

“The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project has been exploring ways to weave the teaching of argument through the curriculum. Even the youngest students can argue about literature and so some of the new work at the Project has been around trying to develop protocols for how students might take positions and debate about literature, supporting their arguments with reasons and evidence from the texts. The sample lesson plan represents what has come out of this exploration so far. You’ll see it is framed as an argument read aloud where the students are told an argument about the story before it starts and then asked to take a position as they listen. Following the read aloud, they are introduced to a protocol for debating which is similar to the structure of formal debates but offers more scaffolding in the form of time to plan with people who share the same position at multiple points. The aim is to create a structure of teaching which creates an urgent feeling for the need to argue and support positions, sky-high engagement and support for all learners.”


From: ‘How to Get Argument Protocols Up and Running in Reading Workshop”


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