“Apples to Apples” to teach argument/opinion writing



A few weeks ago, I used the game Apples to Apples with a group of sixth graders to have fun thinking about the concept of “reasons” and “evidence” as it relates to argument writing. They had a blast and I learned a lot about what they were struggling with conceptually and was able to coach at the point of need.

First the group (of 7) just played the game and enjoyed it. If you’re not familiar with this game, one green card with an adjective is drawn (like “playful” or “silly”) and the players, who have five red cards in their hands with nouns on each (like “girl scouts” or “flip flops”) have to pick one of their cards and give it to the judge who does not see the card, but mixes the players’ cards up and then lays them out. The judge has to decide which red noun card fits the green adjective card the best. I always encourage students to make their case –but in a way that does not give away which card is there’s. Lots of oral language and collaborative conversation going on.

This is how I modified the game to teach/reinforce reasons and supporting evidence-

  • There’s a judge and teams of 3 students.
  • Each team has to give 3 clear reasons why their red noun card fits the green adjective card (e.g., playful, puzzling). They have 3 minutes to develop their reasons. The reasons cannot be types of evidence–just reasons. Surprisingly, this was hard for the group – they want so badly to just start with giving evidence.
  • BEFORE THE TEAMS MEET TO DEVELOP THEIR REASONS, have a brief conversation about the meaning of the adjective on the green card and jot down synonyms or helpful phrases. See the image below. I’d quickly brainstorm with the kids several additional words that were synonymous or helped to define the key word. I started doing this because we had a round where their reasoning was flawed because they’d misinterpreted the adjective. This is a big problem in students’ writing, too–they don’t have a clear understanding of a Tier Two word like “perseverant” that they are using to make an argument and their argument falls apart. (I’ve blogged on this if you want to read more…) Another tip — sometimes there are two words listed to define the adjective on the card — these words might have slightly different meanings–so I’d just choose one.

IMG_3734 IMG_3735

  • The judge is responsible for deciding which team has the most sound reasoning (even if it’s silly or playful) or reason and evidence; frequently, the judge needed coaching to get started in articulating why reasons were sound. When I started coaching them on reasons versus evidence, the judge started ruling that a team may not have presented “reasons” versus “evidence.”

In a later round, I ask the teams to come up with one reason and supporting evidence instead of three reasons.

I worked with a group of 7 sixth grade students which was a luxury. Other ways to do this–You could try dividing a whole class into four groups and moving around to coach groups. If you have a student teacher or classroom volunteer, they could pull students to do this; a literacy specialist or special education teacher who pushes in might do this. I’d recommend this for 3rd-5th grade as well–this could happen a few times during guided reading–a nice break and very beneficial.

Playing this game allowed the students to have fun, but it also freed them up from the cognitive load of writing to just think about reasoning and evidence and begin to articulate the difference. The two teams I worked even began to offer counterarguments!!

Okay…hope this helps.



3 thoughts on ““Apples to Apples” to teach argument/opinion writing

  1. elizabethstavis

    Did you have any frames to help push their thinking to reasons rather than evidence? I’m curious what their reasons sounded like. This sounds like a really great game for oral language and vocab development, thanks!

    1. sundaycummins Post author

      Hmmm…I didn’t use any frames and now you’ve made me start thinking about what I could use. I think what I did was when I talked about evidence (I also used the word “support”), I named specific types of evidence like “that is an anecdote” or “that is an example” or “that is an explanation.” For one round, I asked them to give one reason and then one anecdote (short story which they could even make up) to support the reason.
      Here’s an example of reason versus evidence (in my mind, you know…I’m always working my way through this!!!)–
      Let’s say the team presents the red noun card “Niagara Falls” for the green card “expensive.” A reason for Niagara Falls to be a good match would be that “going to Niagara Falls is an expensive trip.” Evidence would be “the plane fare could be in the hundreds of dollars if you fly from CA to that part of the country” and “then you also have to pay for a hotel.”
      Another example – Let’s say the team presents “boy scouts” for “careful–cautious, thoughtful.” I worked with a team on this one (I can’t remember exactly what the adjective was, but we were using the boy scouts card). The reasons for the boy scouts being in the careful category (with a focus on thoughtful)–the boy scouts have to work carefully to earn their badges and the boy scouts have to be thoughtful in wearing their uniform correctly. I suppose these could be reasons and/or evidence depending on how you explain your thinking. For evidence or support, I pushed the students to explain further…explaining how they have to be careful when earning their badge, what’s an example of this…how they have to be thoughtful about wearing their uniform correctly…what’s an example (your collar has to be straight, your badges have to be sewn on neatly, and so forth).
      Tricky, tricky. I’d love to hear about how others do this as well! Also, the noun cards do not always fit neatly with the adjective cards–so I told students to stretch their reasoning, even make it silly and then build support from there.


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