Teaching Argumentation Skills
Dan Guerrero challenges his students to construct arguments using academic language and terms.
Teacher: Dan Guerrero
School: Tennyson High School, Hayward, CA
Lesson Topic: Toulmin model of logic
Lesson Month: January
Number of Students: 36
Other: The majority of students in this AP English class have been reclassified as fluent English proficient within the last few years and historically would not have been accepted into an AP course (but were given the opportunity because of Tennyson High School’s open enrollment policy).
Featured Lesson’s Student Goals:
- Content objectives – Understand how to make a Toulmin logical argument
- Literacy/language objectives – Articulate the meaning of “categoricalism” and “consequentialism”; write a Toulmin logical argument from a scenario; use the language of philosophers Jeremy Bentham and Immanuel Kant
- Engagement/interaction objectives – Work collaboratively to practice argumentation; continue to build sense of confidence in presentation
Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts
Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
This unit on ethics and justice focused on developing argumentative skills and writing.
Before the Video
Mr. Guerrero had just finished teaching a unit on rhetorical analysis. In the two weeks prior to the featured lesson, he had been working with students on the ideas behind the Toulmin method. They had a homework assignment the previous night in which they were asked to identify a Toulmin logic argument and write a full argument for it.
During the Video
Mr. Guerrero began class by giving students a three-question quiz. They were asked to define categoricalism and consequentialism and establish the four fundamental aspects of Toulmin logic.
Mr. Guerrero shared an anecdote about his childhood and asked students to quickly write an argument about whether they felt he had acted in the right or wrong way in his story. Some students explained their answers to the class based on the ideas of categoricalism and consequentialism. In order to build students' confidence in their understanding of the terms in a low-risk situation while also modeling anecdotal evidence, Mr. Guerrero described his actions in a lighthearted manner. He also asked students to explain the difference between reason and evidence.
Together, they reviewed and discussed the homework assignment, with some students presenting their work to the class. After that, Mr. Guerrero gave each small group a different scenario to analyze (e.g., ancient Romans throwing Christians to the lions) and a graphic organizer to complete in preparation for that night’s writing homework. The graphic organizer was used for the brainstorm, outline, and first draft of the writing assignment. Students discussed their scenarios in small groups while Mr. Guerrero walked around to offer support and clarified how to apply the relevant terms. He made sure that all students remained on task by monitoring the class and periodically calling out to students in various part of the room. As time allowed, some groups presented their work to the class.
At the end of the lesson, Mr. Guerrero had students write one thing they learned that day and one thing they wanted to learn in the unit on ethics and justice.
After the Video
After the featured lesson, students completed a written argument based on their group work in class. During the next lesson, the groups that had not yet had a chance to present did so, and Mr. Guerrero continued working with the ideas from the Toulmin method of logic.
Mr. Guerrero selected and typed up different scenarios for students in advance of the featured lesson. Some of the scenarios were taken from Harvard University's Justice with Michael Sandel website.
Students had already been working with the Toulmin method for a couple of weeks. For this lesson, they needed to have internalized the fundamental terms: claim, reason, evidence, and warrant.
Mr. Guerrero tries to help students gain academic confidence in many ways. For example, while they were taking the quiz in the featured lesson, he walked around and tried to lead students who were struggling toward correct answers by reminding them what they had done as homework. He assigned the scenarios to the various groups while keeping in mind the students’ level: students who had developed a more sophisticated understanding of argumentative analysis were given more difficult scenarios. During the group discussions, Mr. Guerrero helped students apply the relevant terms to their viewpoints by inserting the appropriate vocabulary (such as the terms “categorical” and “consequentialist”) and rephrasing their sentences.
In addition, Mr. Guerrero supports students who are the most demonstrative by asking them to explain concepts to students who are quieter; he tries to get shyer students involved by asking them to respond. He uses the think-pair-share strategy. He also creates graphic organizers to help organize information for writing assignments and provides sentence starters. He makes himself accessible outside of class and develops personal relationships with his students to help them feel that his classroom is a safe environment for them to take academic risks.
Students worked in small groups to discuss ethical scenarios. Mr. Guerrero walked around the room and facilitated discussions by modeling how to use the relevant language correctly. He helped them rephrase their ideas more clearly and encouraged all students to participate. For example, if some members of the group were more vocal, he asked them to explain the argument to a quieter member of the group. However, he then asked the quiet member to present the scenario to the class.
Mr. Guerrero approaches his classroom with a constructivist methodology and students make meaning in active participation and engagement with each other. His students learn that their ideas may change once they start conversing with their peers.
Resources and Tools
- Graphic organizer
- Harvard University's Justice with Michael Sandel
At this point in the unit, many students were still using terms incorrectly. Mr. Guerrero tried to insert correct terms as he talked with students; he rephrased sentences for them but did not penalize them for using terms inappropriately. He responded to student questions and comments and adapted the scenarios accordingly.
Mr. Guerrero assesses his students in three categories of writing:
- Low-risk writing, such as journal writing (not graded for grammar or spelling but rather for idea exploration)
- Medium-risk writing, such as homework and in-class writing assignments
- High-risk writing, such as exams