Looking at the Arguments of Others

AnalyzingThis segment is intended to address two very different needs in the same Social Studies classroom.

On the one hand, writing and other Social Studies Skills are important in and of themselves. They're tested on many varieties of state assessments and they're essential to success in AP or other College Prep coursework, but mostly... it's just good for kids to learn to write well. Writing is thinking on paper. Clear writing promotes clear thinking - and God knows we could use more of that in our world.

On the other hand, there's SO much content to get through. I have yet to encounter a set of state standards which could realistically be taught properly in less than about seven years. Some of us teach state-tested subjects, so come about February it's time for those 'End of Instruction' tests to take over our entire worlds. (The term 'End of Instruction', as it turns out, doesn't mean they're given at the conclusion of the year - far from it. Rather, once the state wants to start testing, all useful instruction is OVER.)

And yet, despite the inanity, we plow forward each year. We keep teaching history because we believe history is important and we want our kids to walk away knowing stuff.

The activities described on this page are part of an effort to build writing skills without sacrificing so much content. As students analyze various thesis sentences, editorials, or the structure of sample essays, they are reading and reorganizing material they should know or be thinking about anyway - or at least that's the theory.

I'm a big fan of learning new skills with non-threatening content, either funzie stuff or material that's essentially review of past units. Conversely, we learn important new content with comfortable skills - stuff we already know how to do. If you can't bear the funzie stuff, even in order to introduce essential skills, then use 'comfortable content' - stuff they need to know but which shouldn't be completely new to them.

Analyzing the Arguments of Others

Give students an editorial or other informal argument and ask them to read and analyze it.

What is the author's 'stand' or 'thesis'? What point is he or she trying to prove? Is it state explicitly, or is the reader expected to infer it from the whole?

How does the author support his or her stand/thesis? What points or arguments are made to prove the main point? Which ones are the most effective or persuasive, and why? Which ones are less effective, and why do you think so?

Does the author acknowledge other points of view, possible problems with his or her argument, or complexities involved? If so, how?

How does the author demonstrate an awareness of his or her audience?

What would you change about this argument, if anything, to make it more effective?

{If you've already worked on constructing a good thesis statement...} Write a thesis statement for this argument in the format we've been practicing.

I've attached three sample arguments I sometimes use. They're not particularly difficult to analyze - that's not my goal.

Evaluate The Thesis - It's Not Only FUN, It's Practically Learning!

Give students a prompt with 8-10 written responses to evaluate. I like to let them know before beginning that this is not a simple 'right one(s)' / 'wrong one(s)' type activity. Some are better than others, and some worse, but many have strengths and weaknesses compared to the rest. Heck, we may not even AGREE which are the best. I KNOW, right?

NOTE: to the best of my knowledge, all factual information included - in every response - is correct. It may not answer the prompt, or be expressed well, etc., but none of the weaknesses are intended to be based on the content being wrong. My primary goal is to evaluate and consider thesis structure, but the secondary goal is to reinforce content.

What's good about each one, if anything? What problems are there with each? Explain your answers.

Choose two which have potential, but need some work. How would you revise them to be more effective or more accurate?

Remixing The Essay

Give students a standard argumentative essay in 5-paragraph form or whatever form you teach and prefer, cut into strips of one sentence each and mixed up. Make sure they have basic guidelines as to its structure AND the prompt to which it is responding.

Organize these sentences into the best possible essay responding to the provided prompt.

NOTE: This can be easily differentiated by color-coding the thesis and topic sentences, or by using chunks of sentences instead of single sentences, or by giving each group one paragraph of the essay instead of the whole essay, etc.

Essay Editor

Here's a two-page essay on the causes of the Texas Revolution and subsequent Independence of Texas. Your job is to clean it up and organize it to make it more effective. Write a good complex thesis and three topic sentences for your improved essay.


Here's a two-page essay on the causes of the Texas Revolution and subsequent Independence of Texas. Your job is to cleat it up and organize it to make it more effective. Rewrite it in the format we've been practicing, reorganzing as necessary or eliminating anything you think weakens the argument.


Next, write down each of your supporting points for that main idea, but leave four or five lines in between each point.


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