Teaching Argumentative Writing—Skills and Strategies
High school students need to possess strong writing skills and learn various writing strategies to be successful in college and the career of their choice. They have to be able to argue opinions, present viewpoints, and comment on events or phenomena using clear and effective language. It is a teacher’s job to identify which types of writing skills their students need to master to create persuasive argumentative texts.
Your students will need to practice critical writing to be able to do college essays and compose other types of argumentative and persuasive writing. School assignments and academic success aren’t the only reason why reading and writing skills are important for your students. Above all else, honing those skills in adolescence teaches your students to think for themselves, helps them determine what career path they want to take, and makes them more successful on that path.
Let’s take a look at what skills and strategies your students need to master argumentative writing and what activities you can implement in the classroom to help them become better writers and thinkers.
Credit: Mike Tinnion
Argumentative Writing—Definition and Characteristics
Argumentative writing is an essay or research paper that aims to comment on events, ideas, or phenomena. The author takes a stand and argues a point, supporting it by thorough theoretical and empirical research and conclusive evidence that backs up their claims.
An argumentative essay has some similarities to an expository essay, which is why the terms are often used interchangeably even though, in reality, they are two different genres of writing.
Here are some key differences between the two:
|Argumentative Essay||Expository Essay|
Characteristics of Argumentative Essays
Credit: Dan Dimmock
Argumentative writing follows a specific structure. Your students need to learn it and use it in their essays.
The structural parts of an argumentative paper, whether it’s a shorter or longer work, are:
- Body paragraphs
|Argumentative Essay Parts||Composition|
A crucial characteristic of argumentative writing is the transition from one paragraph to the next. The points made need to be clearly connected and interrelated for the essay to make sense and argue a point successfully.
Other important aspects are the clarity of the evidence presented and the persuasiveness the author employs to convince the reader their point is valid. Your students can learn how to do this efficiently if you teach them the skills needed to write argumentative essays.
Argumentative Writing Skills
Extensive knowledge of vocabulary and sentence constructions is integral for argumentative writing. This form of writing also requires solid:
- Reading skills
- Research skills
- Cognitive abilities
- Argumentative skills
Argumentative writing is a response to another person’s essay, a societal issue, or a world phenomenon. For your students to write argumentatively, they need to research the topic well by reading about it extensively. For this reason, you need to equip your students with various reading comprehension strategies that make a substantial part of the prewriting process. Feel free to use fun ways to teach your students reading before you make them work on their writing skills as the two are inevitably interconnected.
Your students will also benefit from learning critical reading because it will:
- Improve their vocabulary
- Show them different writing strategies they can employ
- Give them ideas to use in their work
- Help them develop research and cognitive skills
Using supporting evidence is an inseparable part of argumentative writing. You should teach your students to research their topics properly before they start writing argumentative essays. This means that they should be able to locate the relevant material for their topic, compare and contrast the gathered sources, and determine which ones they will use in their essays.
Some students may struggle with research and fail to find the sources for the topic they need to cover. One reason for this is that they use the wrong keywords in their search. Another is that they waste hours on end going over the sources that are irrelevant for their purposes or they don’t even end up using.
You need to teach your students how to do research regularly and conscientiously so that they can avoid those traps. Ultimately, they should spend more time writing than digging for information.
To do research and write effortlessly, your students need to possess many cognitive skills, including:
- Language usage
Cognitive abilities play a significant role in the prewriting process and beyond. Your students need to be able to evaluate the evidence they have gathered through research, weigh the pros and cons of an issue, and present their point of view convincingly. Training your students to sharpen their memory, broaden their attention spans, and use problem-solving skills is instrumental for teaching them how to write a quality argumentative text.
It’s not a surprise that your students need a set of argumentative skills to write successful argumentative texts. Many of the already mentioned skills fall under this category, like:
- Critical thinking
- Evaluating sources
- Taking a stand
A crucial aspect of argumentation is persuasion. Your students need to use it to convince their audience that the argument they’re presenting in their writing is the correct one. This is done through careful use of language, a successful rebuttal of the opposing argument, and enough implementation of credible evidence to support the main point.
Argumentative Writing Strategies
Credit: Kelly Sikkema
You should teach your students how to approach any genre of writing—from descriptive to persuasive—if you want them to write stellar essays. Here are the strategies you should teach your students to employ when they write argumentative essays:
- Choosing the side of an issue
- Presenting and refuting the opposing view
- Outlining the essay
- Connecting ideas
- Using linking words
- Reviewing their work
Where Do You Stand?
A prerequisite for argumentative writing is taking a stand. This is a strategy you can teach your students through various activities. A good idea is to have a classroom debate on a specific topic and to let your students present opposing views on it and decide which they would rather side with.
You should also teach them what opening statements are and how to compose them. The first sentence of their essay should explain the topic broadly, but it should also be catchy enough to grab the reader’s attention.
Don’t Ignore the Other Side
Your students’ argumentative essays will be more persuasive if they include an opposing viewpoint and refute it efficiently. Counter arguments are often an obligatory part of an argumentative essay assignment.
Maybe your students are writing a paper that has only two or three body paragraphs. If so, tell them to introduce the opposing argument in the first one and rebut it in the following paragraphs in which they’ll argue their case.
Organization in Writing
Creating an outline is an unavoidable part of any longer written piece. Even if your students are writing an argumentative essay of no more than 350 words, they should approach it with a plan in mind. Putting such a plan to paper, i.e., creating an outline, will not only help your students write a well organized final draft but also teach them how to:
- Structure their essays properly
- Contrast and compare ideas and evidence
- Refer to the sources in adequate parts of the essay
A conclusion is often seen as a paraphrase of the introductory paragraph. You have to teach your students that this isn’t true. Even though they should restate the main idea in the conclusion, they shouldn’t only paraphrase their thesis statement and stop there.
Teach your students how to connect and summarize all the ideas from the essay in their conclusion. Their concluding paragraph should emphasize the main points, the evidence presented, and the call for the reader to side with the argument defended.
Transitions Are Key
What will help your students express their argument efficiently and connect the ideas from various parts of their essay into a unified piece of writing is linking words. Though they are often considered overused, if your students are just beginning to write argumentation, transition words will help them drive the point home in their essay. They will also make it easier for the reader to understand the ideas expressed in the text.
Another important strategy for any writing is getting feedback and revising the text according to it. You should give your students feedback on their outlines, opening statements, individual paragraphs, and the entire essays when they’re done. You can also implement peer-reviews and aid your students in learning from each other’s work.
Activities for Teaching Argumentative Writing in High School
Your students need to know the skills and strategies that go into writing argumentative essays. Once they do, what will help them acquire those skills is regular practice.
Here are some ideas for classroom activities that you can assign to help your students hone their argumentative writing skills:
- The missing linking phrases
- Different opening statements
- Argumentative essay examples
- Peer reviews
- Argumentative presentation
- Mind maps
Adding The Missing Linking Words
You will give a lesson on the structure of argumentative essays before you ask your students to write them. While you’re at it, you have to teach them linking phrases and the purpose they serve.
You can give your students a list of the linking phrases with explanations of what they’re used for—for example, yet and however are both used for comparison. When your students have studied the list, give them an essay from which you have previously removed all linking phrases and ask them to supply the most appropriate linker in the blanks. Their answers don’t need to match the original transition words, but they do need to choose the ones that fit in with the context of the text logically and complement it.
The purpose of this exercise is to make your students:
- Learn linking words and when they are used
- See how devoid of clarity an essay can be without them
- Realize the importance of effective transitions in an essay
Coming Up With Another Hook
Authors use intriguing opening sentences to hook readers to their work. The primary purpose of any piece of writing is to get the audience interested in it and read it to the end.
Here are some ways in which your students could start an argumentative essay:
- Contrasting statements
- A metaphor
- A quote
- Question and answer
Find the examples of each of these methods in an essay introduction and give them to your students to study. You can then assign them a topic and a specific method to try out on their own.
Studying Other Argumentative Essays
When you introduce argumentative writing to your students, give them time to analyze the new form by studying example essays before they start writing their own. Many websites offer examples of argumentative writing for free, so you are bound to stumble upon different essay samples you can use in the classroom.
While your students are analyzing other people’s essays, ask them to identify the structural parts you had previously taught them. They can also fact-check the arguments the authors made to support their claims. They’ll get more engaged with the text and hone their critical thinking and research skills along the way. They should discuss how effective the argumentative essay they’re reading is, i.e., whether the author managed to prove their point and convince the reader.
Reviewing Peer Assignments
While you should provide thorough feedback on your students’ work, you can also delegate that duty to them every once in a while. Peer review will certainly be a fun activity for them. They can help each other reflect on their progress and improve together. To give them some direction, tell your students they have to answer these four questions about their classmates’ essays:
- Whether the introduction is sufficiently intriguing to make the audience keep reading
- How much evidence the author uses to prove a point
- Whether the conclusion is inviting the reader to side with the author’s view
- How well the author employed the transition techniques
Another fun spin on the peer review method is instructing your students to create an outline for the essay they’re reading. This is called backward outlining, and it helps your students identify the key parts of the finished text.
When you are teaching students argumentative writing, you aren’t only doing it to help them write better papers but to help them improve their overall argumentative and reasoning skills. They will need those skills to be more confident, employ their logical thinking abilities, and use their voice and agency in every aspect of their life.
An excellent activity to demonstrate to your students that they need argumentative skills for more than writing an amazing essay is a presentation debate task. Teach your students all they need to prepare and execute a speech (like how to start a speech in a school competition), assign them some thought-provoking topics, and have them sharpen their argumentation skills orally through debate.
Scribbling Down Ideas as They Come
A standardized argumentative essay outline is a clear, linear plan for what the essay will look like, which is likely to demotivate your students from the get-go.
Brainstorming is an interesting and unexpected activity that teaches your students to love the messiness of the writing process. Before they put their ideas into an outline, they should draw a mind map of everything that pops into their head and put those ideas on paper. They are bound to get creative and practice the different skills of the prewriting process at the same time.
How To Teach Argumentative Writing—What Do You Say?
If you feel we have neglected to mention some of the most fun ways to teach argumentative writing to high school students, why not offer some ideas of your own?
If you agree with us or feel there are points about teaching argumentative writing that were left unsaid—write to us. Your words will find their place on our blog.