Here’s an idea for motivating students to research and then design an argument–use candy bars. I did this with a group of sixth grade students. There were two teams of four students and each team was charged with studying different sources — the nutrition label, advertisements on YouTube, etc. to come up with logical reasons why their candy bar was the best. This meant they also had to consider resources on the second candy bar so they were prepared for counterarguments. They had a blast. And what I learned was they needed more instruction on the difference between reasons (the Snickers bar has nutritious value) and evidence (the Snickers bar has peanuts which are a source of…). I was able to do some coaching for this while they engaged in the research and writing of notes. They did not write papers…instead they presented their research using a debate format. See some of the artifacts below.
This is the anchor chart that got us started and that I referred to over and over again as I coached the groups. Notice how I provided additional words to describe the words “value” (importance, worth, usefulness) and “logical” (clear, sound, well thought out). This really helped the students articulate for themselves what their task was.
I had Chrome books ready with an advertisement I’d viewed to make sure it was appropriate in advance of the lesson. We talked about appeal and why that would make for a better candy bar (or does it even?)…
I also had them look at the nutrition labels on the back. When one group decided that peanuts in the Snickers bars made them nutritious–I pushed them to research on the Internet the nutritious value of peanuts. We could have gone on and on with this –thinking about sugars and so forth. I didn’t —I was aiming towards fun and initial experiences this time around.
As a team, they had to list (and write) “logical reasons” as they did their research and engaged in collaborative conversations.
At the end, we spent about 15 minutes going through a debate format for presenting their logical reasons and evidence. Only one team got to present their research. I’d give them 90 seconds to present. The other team had to listen and be able to summarize what was said and then offer an attempt at a counterargument--using their own researched candy bar reasons or questioning the validity of the first team’s point. They were hungry to spend more time developing counterarguments--a luxury we didn’t have, but that I’d make more time for in the future. Maybe each team could present three logical reasons in advance of the debate and the other team could do research to develop counterarguments. This was all just an initial attempt and I wanted them to have fun and be playful…but I also coached for logic and attention to what was being said.
Three sources I found helpful in studying and planning for this –
- I found the idea for the candy bar activity on-line in a PDF entitled “Debate Games and Activities”– from the Saskatchewan Elocution and Debate Association. This guide has some good ideas – especially for older students.
- I started teaching myself about debate by reading Speak Out! Debate and Public Speaking in the Middle Grades by Meany and Shuster. I want students to have fun creating arguments–while also fine tuning and strengthening their arguments–debate is one way to do this.
- I always, always go back to Teaching Argument Writing, Grades 6-12 by Hillocks–the best book I’ve seen on this topic. (I’ve blogged about it.)
Okay…hope this helps.