Writing@CSU: Composition Teaching Resources

Week 11: Monday, November 3rd - Friday, November 7th

Goals for this Week

  • Collect the Context Comparison
  • Help students understand the basics of structuring an argument by assigning the PHG reading on structuring arguments on pages 484 - 488. You might consider creating an overhead based on pages 486-487 and leading your students in a discussion of the pros and cons of each organizational strategy. You can emphasize that arguments take many shapes and that there is no single "correct" way to structure an argument. A thesis or a "map" helps readers see where an argument is heading. Acknowledging and responding to opposing arguments shows that a writer is more credible and informed on their issue. Using narration provides a context or background to illustrate what the writer is responding to in society or culture. All of these elements are important aspects of argumentation, but the writer must decide where and when it is best to use them. You may also want to reinforce that a writer needs both reasons and evidence (research) to support their claims. Providing specific evidence accounts for much of the development of an essay.
  • Discuss research strategies and organization. See Resources, below.
  • Review sample arguments about publicly debated issues. Here’s a good opportunity for students to pull out those Editorial and Op-Ed pieces they’re collecting. They should also look at different kinds of arguments as well, however. During the review, ask students to identify the writer's overall claim, to break the argument into parts and describe what the writer is doing in each part of the argument, to identify and evaluate (in terms of the writing situation model) the overall organization of the argument, and to evaluate the writer’s use of evidence. In carrying out this review, you might decide to use a “Backwards Outline,” a technique designed to help us dissect arguments and examine their parts or structure. Many students complain that this activity “hurts their brains,” but don’t forget they’re paying us to make them think. (To learn more about backwards outlines, see Resources, below.)
  • Review the use of graphics at the start of chapters in the PHG and share photos and graphics collected from the NYT.
  • Sign up for conferences

Connection to Course Goals

The objective this week is to help students think about organizing and developing their arguments. By looking at sample arguments and discussing such things as claims, reasons, evidence, narration, and opposing arguments, students will begin to see that there are many approaches to writing arguments. (Remember that you have a steady supply of arguments in the Editorial/Op-Ed pages of the Times.) We want to show students that there is no single correct way to organize or develop an argument. Rather, the effectiveness of an argument depends on the choices a writer makes in response to his/her audience and context. The integration of analysis of graphics from the NYT also helps students to see that visual rhetoric is an important tool for developing stories/arguments, although an overall message is not easily controlled.

Required Reading and Assignments

  • Read "Outlines for Arguments" and "Developing Arguments" page 487- 488 in PHG.
  • Design an assignment where students read two or three arguments (from the PHG, from the Web, and/or from the NYT). Use these samples in class to discuss how each writer makes different choices about structure and development based on their purpose, audience, and context. Most of this can be covered during class, but assign two or three questions for students to think about or respond to when reading each essay. This will encourage critical thinking and promote more discussion. The questions on page 482 in the PHG can be adapted for just about any essay to meet the goals of this activity. The arguments available in the PHG include: "The Internet: A Clear and Present Danger?" by Cathleen A. Cleaver page 458; "The Damnation of A Canyon" by Edward Abbey page 464; the capital punishment series: "Death and Justice" by Edward Koch page 472; "Death Be Not Proud" by Robert Badinter page 477; and "Death and Justice" by John O'Sullivan page 479. If you are using two or more of the "Death Penalty" essays, consider also assigning the introduction on page 471. Also, in the questions section following the readings, you can find Internet addresses for other related arguments.


Review strategies for developing introductions, conclusions, and “middles” of arguments: Prepare a lecture, discussion or activity where you review the following strategies for developing and organizing different parts of an argument. If you prepare a lecture, we suggest that you ask students to take notes.

Writing Introductions

Review the types of strategies for creating introductions (also, see page 314 - 316 in the PHG for additional help with writing lead-ins and introductions):

·       State the Topic: Come right out and say it. Tell your readers what your topic is, what the issue/conversation is you are focusing on, and what your argument aims to do.

·       Define Your Argument: If your readers are familiar with disagreements among authors contributing to your conversation, you can get right to your main point—what you think should be done about the issue or what you think they should know about it. In other words, you can introduce your argument by leading with your thesis statement. By using your thesis statement in your introduction, you can let your readers know, for example, whether you are explaining something, making an argument to convince them of your points, offering a solution to a problem, etc…

·       Define a Problem: Depending on how you define a problem, you’ll call attention to different solutions. There’s a tremendous difference, for instance, between saying, “We have a problem with education: our teachers are not prepared to teach the skills needed in the 21st century” and “We have a problem with education: our students can’t learn the skills needed in the 21st century.”

·       Ask a Question: Asking a question invites your readers to become participants in the conversation you’ve joined by considering solutions to a problem or rethinking approaches to an issue or problem.

·       Tell a Story: Everyone loves a story, assuming it’s told well and has a relevant point. Featured writer Patrick Crossland began his research project with a story about his brother Caleb, a senior in high school and a star wrestler who was beginning the process of applying to colleges and universities.

·       Provide a Historical Account: Historical accounts can help your readers understand the origins of a particular situation, how the situation has changed over time, and how it has affected people.

·       Lead with a Quotation: A quotation allows your readers to hear about the issue under discussion from someone who knows it well or has been affected by it. You can select a quotation that poses a question, defines a problem, or tells a story. You can also use quotations to provide a historical perspective.

·       Review the Situation: You can provide a brief review of the situation, drawing on other sources or on your own synthesis of information about the issue. A brief review can be combined with other strategies, such as asking a question, defining a problem, or defining your argument.

Writing Conclusions

Introduce strategies for concluding an essay:

·       Sum Up Your Argument: Offer a summary of the argument you’ve made in your document.

·       Offer Additional Analysis: Extend your analysis of the issue by offering additional insights.

·       Speculate about the Future: Reflect on what might happen next.

·        Close with a Quotation: Select a quotation that does one of the following:

o     sums up the points you’ve made in your document

o     points to the future of the issue

o     suggests a solution to a problem

o     illustrates what you would like to see happen

·       Close with a Story: Tell a story about the issue you’ve discussed in your document. The story might suggest a potential solution to the problem, offer hope about a desired outcome, or illustrate what might happen if a desired outcome doesn’t come to pass.

·       Link to Your Introduction: This technique is sometimes called a “bookends” approach, since it positions your introduction and conclusion as related “ends” of your document. The basic idea is to turn you conclusion into an extension of your introduction:

o     If your introduction used a quotation, end with a related quotation or respond to the quotation.

o     If your introduction used a story, extend that story or retell it with a different ending.

o     If your introduction asked a question, answer the question, restate the question, or ask a new question.

o     If your introduction defined a problem, provide a solution to the problem, restate the problem, or suggest that readers need to move on to a new problem.

Using Illustrations/Graphics/Visuals

Find a few examples (from the NYT, magazines or Web sites) to illustrate how some writers use illustrations to support their arguments. Pass these around in class:

  • Images (photos, drawings, animations, video, audio)
  • Tables
  • Lists
  • Charts and Graphs

Ask students to bring in examples from the Times that they’ve collected, plus other examples of graphics. Refer to the PHG intro-to-chapter pages and discuss their possible meanings/interpretations. Ask students to brainstorm options for incorporating visual elements into their papers. They might think of something as complex as creating a table to display data or something as simple as a bulleted list to simplify a complex set of solutions, for instance, for a reader.

Writing Narration

Consider where your argument fits into the larger, ongoing discussion about your issue. Then, provide some setting to show readers what you're responding to so that your essay isn't floating in space. The narration can be personal (a story that you've experienced) cultural (recent trends in society, or a speech or text that you're responding to) or political (recent government-supported actions). By connecting your issue to a something concrete, readers will realize its significance and see the reason for your argument.

Organizing Research

·       Label and group your notes and sources using one or a combination of these methods:

o     chronological order

o     cause > effect

o     beneath multiple approaches or viewpoints

o     compare and contrast

o     strengths and weaknesses

o     problems and solutions

·       Brainstorm connections between your purpose, your claim, your reasons and your evidence and group these ideas accordingly

·       Cluster or create a visual scheme where you sketch out the relationships between your claim, your reason and your evidence.

·       Consider your audience. What reasons and evidence should they hear first? What reasons and evidence should you save for later? Will they be able to follow your organization given what they know about your issue? How much narration or background will they need? What structure lends itself to the greater focus and coherency?

·       Write out a very rough draft and then read through it, drawing lines between related ideas. Use scissors to cut up your draft and try rearranging paragraphs in various orders on the floor. Also, try looking at the argument from the POV of your readers and ask, which order seems most logical and fitting to their needs and interests?

Finding Substantial Evidence

You have already completed research to gain an understanding of the ongoing "conversation" about your particular issue, and to identify the range of positions on the issue. Now you'll need to do further research to 1.) consider the range of opposing arguments for your own argument and 2.) find substantial evidence to support your overall claim and sub claims. Use the following strategies to locate further research.

·       Review the library handout (on your own time) and continue to search online databases.

·       Find periodicals: Here are some of the magazines (beyond more general-audience magazines such as Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report) that may offer articles on important current issues:




Atlantic Monthly

The Economist

New Republic

The Nation

National Review

Business Week

Utne Reader

The Christian Science Monitor

The Humanist

Scientific American

Note that this list is by no means comprehensive


·       Consult reference texts: Reference texts provide statistics, facts, definitions, demographic, and other useful types of information. You may find them useful especially early in the process of researching your topic.

·       Use live sources. Talk with friends, family, and teachers but also think of ways to use the web to find live sources (i.e. discussion forums, chat-rooms, using schools’ web sites if the research involves schools, etc.). Also, briefly consider how live sources might be useful as evidence for the paper, given the target audience and context for your argument.

Using different Arguing Approaches (from PHG - more traditional vs. Rogerian)

This discussion should give students more of a sense of the different approaches or strategies available to them beyond traditional argumentative methods. Emphasize to students that their argument doesn’t have to be completely traditional or Rogerian. Instead, they might use Rogerian techniques for the most sensitive points in an argument that is otherwise more traditional.

Engage Students in a Backwards Outline Analysis: This activity can easily be applied to the newspapers they brought with them to class. On a sheet of paper, (or on the board) write down the author’s main claim or the controlling idea in the essay. Divide the rest of the paper (or board) into three columns. Then complete the following tasks, one by one:

  • In the left-hand column, write a brief summary of the content and purpose of each paragraph (e.g. Suzy Q example to support argument about body image). If there are two distinct ideas or purposes in the paragraph, write a brief phrase for each.
  • In the middle column, write a sentence that explains the connection between what this paragraph says/does and the overall claim at the top. If you don’t know or it isn’t clear, write a question mark.
  • In the third column, write a sentence that explains the connection between the paragraphs (i.e. paragraph one and paragraph two; paragraph two and paragraph three, and so on). If there is no clear connection, put a question mark in the third column.

*This backwards outline activity could easily be applied to an editorial from the New York Times. Have students bring yesterday’s (or today’s--if you’re not afraid to take on a “brand new” article) newspaper and apply the concept. The advantage here is that everyone will have the document and everyone will have more or less the same amount of time to prepare—which is to say, not much time at all! This may be an excellent opportunity for students to see that they can readily apply their new skills (at analyzing arguments) to current articles.