Five Days to better Argumentative writing

Check out the podcast episode here!

One year, I was sitting at my desk looking at the stack of 175 argumentative essays to grade, and I wondered what in the fresh hell I was doing to myself. Were students even going to read my comments? How was this getting them to be better writers? Was I just going through the motions? WHY AM I GRADING ALL OF THIS?

There had to be a better way.

Goal: integrate writing practices into every day without piles and piles of grading.

First off, writing a thesis statement is necessary. So necessary that if students don’t get that point, they can only get 1 point on the argumentative essay. Do your students have a hard time with this?

Try this: Group writing of thesis statements for a warm-up. Each group can share, and the class can look at the rubric to determine whether or not it would get the point.

When peer-reviewing, we make each other better, not tear each other down. It’s a simple question, if you were a grader, would you give this a point. If you are concerned, have groups submit them without names. The point is to write and review thesis statements.

You may want to take a few weeks on this. I cannot overstate how important it is. So important that I’ve written about it a few times. It’s the most popular topic on this blog.

Next, finding evidence. The evidence piece has two parts, so I split it into two days to really integrate it.

Once you have a defensible thesis (and it’s been looked at to ensure the point), it’s time to choose pieces of evidence that will help. I’ve listed the foundational documents as a reference. The point here is to list the evidence and show that you understand what it says. It doesn’t help to list, say, Federalist 10 and NOT show the grader that you know that Fed 10’s main argument was that the power of a large republic would be able to control the “mischiefs of faction.” Madison advocated for a large republic where power was broken up between the national and state governments through elected representatives. The larger the republic, the better it would be at protecting its citizens’ individual rights.

To put it simply, show that you know.

Adding to this, once we’ve established the evidence and that it’s understood, now it’s time to explain why it supports your thesis.

To reiterate: evidence needs what it is and why it supports your thesis. This needs to be done TWICE. You need TWO pieces of evidence that show that you know and explain why it supports your thesis.

Got it? Take two days once students get this.

You can’t write an argumentative essay without a counterclaim. You could do this on the second day after the thesis, but I like to do it after since I want students to concentrate on the thesis and the evidence that supports it. Repeat day one, but with a counterclaim.

The best part of the week is peer review and working through essays. This is a crucial step because student understanding of HOW they are being graded is just as important as writing an essay. Give students a copy of the rubric and review essays in groups.

You can do this in one of two ways.

One- have them underline where they give points. This helps show students where they are strong and creates a sense of “I can write an argumentative essay, and here is where I am good.” In doing that, they may be more apt to look at how they can improve.

Two- have them do the above and then write comments entitled, “Suggestions to make this better!” These comments should target places of improvement. The key here is not to mark anything wrong, but lets them see areas that they can improve to ensure they get the points.

Do you need to grade these?

The point of this system is to eliminate grading and give you opportunities to formatively assess students. If you need grades, there is an opportunity for multiple grades during the week. However, it’s also about creating better writers.

At some point, you will know when it’s time to have students write the essays. When you do this, consider doing a peer review first before you look at it. It allows students to continue to use the rubric as well as gives you a place to review with the student who wrote it and talk about their writing.

Lastly, practice practice practice. Writing is not a one-time thing!

Happy Writing!

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