Tuesday, October 16 and Thursday, October 18

Week 9
Day 17 (Tuesday, October 16) & Day 18 (Thursday, October 18)

Lesson Objectives
Students will

Connection to Course Goals
Reflecting on inquiry and reporting on it builds understading of cirtical reading,information literacy, writing processes and rhetorical situation. Discussion of differences between explaining and arguing furthers students' grasp of academic discourse and writing for varying rhetorical situations. The argument assignment is the culmination of many CO150 skills as students add their voices to existing conversations.

Connection to Students’ Own Writing
This week clarifies the purposes for writing an academic argument and how they differ from the purposes of writing an explanation.  Also, students begin making choices about argument topics and learning about argument structure as they work toward writing their own arguments.

Suggested Activities

Prompt students to reflect on the inquiry assignment by giving them postscript questions to answer.  Collect the postscripts along with annotations, sources, and any other work you asked students to turn in today.  Here are some sample questions:

1. Did you find the answers you set out to find?  Why/why not?
2. Are you satisfied with what answers you did find?  Why/why not?
3. What did your group do to find a range of perspectives on your subject?
4. Have you ever written collaboratively before?  How did your group members negotiate the collaborative explanation?
5. Is there anything else you would like me to know as I grade your work?

Now that students have inquired, they are ready to write arguments.  Because of the collaborative nature of the inquiries, students have many options.  They can use any of their group members’ sources to write an argument about their inquiry subject, or they can use another group’s explanation and research to write an argument about a different subject, or they can draw from several inquiries to write an argument about a subject that is relevant to more than one inquiry.

It’s important that students understand that they will be working within a new writing situation which means that their argument should “feel” different from their explanation (sometimes students say “it feels like I’m writing the same paper” when they write an argument about a topic they have just explained; it shouldn’t).

Show the differences in writing situations by prompting students to describe the writing situation for the explanation and then asking how it might be different in an argument.  You might end up with a 2-column list like this:

Explanation Argument
Writer: somewhat informal groups Writer: somewhat formal individuals
Purpose: describe your research process Purpose: convince others to agree with you
Audience: this class Audience: wider academic community
Text: forum post Text: MLA-style academic paper
Subject: your group's chosen inquiry question Subject: individually chosen inquiry question

Before students choose a subject, they need to understand the assignment itself.  Distribute the assignment sheet and discuss it in the way your class has become accustomed to.  Be sure to allow time for students to ask questions.

If students aren’t already sitting with their groups, ask them to shift so that they are.  Put instructions on the overhead that will prompt groups to prepare a short report about their inquiry.  For example:

Inquiry reports

Help your peers decide on a subject for their argument by telling the class about your inquiry.  Talk among your group to answer the following questions.  In a few minutes, someone from your group will report your group’s answers to the class.

Part of students’ homework will be to read each group's explanation and to decide on two potential topics for the argument.  They’ll also read about claims in the textbook so they can come to class on Thursday with some possible claims in mind.  So that students understand why they need to think about claims, take time at the end of today’s class to introduce argument structure. Remind students that they saw this structure in "The Meatrix" summary lesson and as they looked at the thesis and reasons of the Pollan articles.

Since the purpose of many arguments is to convince readers to agree, it’s important to have a central idea for readers to agree with.  An argument’s central idea is its claim (think back to the summary assignments in which students looked for the claim (or thesis) in the short essays from The Nation).  Writers build arguments off of claims by providing reasons; statements that show why the writer believes the claim to be true.  Since reasons often are opinions, they need evidence to show that they can be considered valid.  The claim à reasons à evidence structure is the foundation for most academic arguments.

Show students an example like this one:

Claim: The U.S. government should subsidize organic food. . .
. . .because organic farming is good for the environment (reason 1)
. . . because organic food is better for people (reason 2)
. . . because if organic food costs less more people could buy it and it would lose its stigma as a “crazy hippie fad.”

Each reason needs to be supported with evidence (which can include firsthand observations, examples from personal experience, statistics, facts, quotations from your reading, results of surveys and interviews, etc.).  Remind students of the kinds of evidence they found convincing in Pollan's articles and your discussions of how his choices of evidence reflect his purpose, audience and context.

At this point, students mainly need to be concerned with coming up with possible claims.

You will to allow some time to prepare students for individual conferences.  You’ll need to explain and schedule conferences.  Also your students need to see an example of a zero draft so they understand what they need to bring to their conference. 

Explain to students that they will not meet for class on the Tuesday of Week 10 (or other class you'll forgo for conference time) but instead they will meet you for a 10-15 minute conference at your office to discuss progress on the academic argument.  Show students an example of a zero-draft (link to Zero Draft Samples in appendix] and explain that a zero-draft is an early attempt to get thoughts on paper. [link to Zero Draft Directions handout in appendix]  Students’ zero-drafts should be about one double-spaced page and should include the claim the writer intends to make, reasons the writer hopes will support the claim, and opposing arguments the writer plans to refute.  Rather than a list, students should write it as a summary or condensed version of the argument they would make if they had to write it now. 

Send around a sign-up sheet that has at least a few more conference times than you have students.  When you create this sheet, remember to leave yourself a few breaks here and there.  Even though you will cancel Tuesday’s class in order to hold conferences, you can spread conferences out over Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.  Ask students who don’t have to meet during Tuesday’s class time to leave those times available for others who don’t have any other time to meet.  Assure students that you will find alternative times to meet with anyone who cannot find a workable time on the sign-up sheet.

Ask students to write about their responses to “The Argument Culture" (assigned for homework due today).  Prompt students with questions on the overhead:


Ask students to share some of their WTL ideas and point out that while the academic argument’s purpose is to convince readers, students do not necessarily have to set out to “win” or bully their readers into agreeing.  Tannen’s idea that we need to look at “all sides” will help students write well-rounded arguments that consider multiple perspectives.

Start by talking with your class about the explanations (posted by groups on Writing Studio) they read for homework.  This will reinforce the idea that the explanations were written for a real audience.  You can ask students to talk about what surprised them the most as they read the explanations, which explanation(s) turned out to have the most exigence (urgency), etc.  Also you can ask students to talk about how the explanations helped them choose their top two topics.

Ask if anyone is certain of the topic they want to pursue for the academic argument.  Ask, “why will this be a good topic for you?”  Hopefully, answers will be about occasion (“it really matters to me” or “I’m really interested in it”) and exigence (“it really matters to others” or “it really needs to be addressed”).  This will help you establish criteria for choosing topics:

Occasion: students need to be motivated to write about it.
Exigence: there needs to be some degree of urgency.
Complexity: it needs to be complex enough that students can “look at all sides.”

With these criteria, students should be able to decide on a topic now, or soon.

Once students have settled on a topic, they need to decide on a debatable claim.  The claim will become the focus of the argument, so it is worth taking time to develop one that will work.  Claims for arguments need to be debatable and of an appropriate scope (neither too narrow nor too broad).  To help students understand these concepts, present a few sample claims on the board:

Sample claim: Food assistance programs are necessary in the U.S.

What kind of claim is this? [claim of fact]
Is it debatable? [yes, people could argue against it.]

To determine if the claim is appropriate in scope, test out reasons and opposing arguments.  If the writer needs more than a few reasons to prove that the claim is valid, the claim might be too broad in scope.  If the writer can prove the claim with just one reason, the claim might be too narrow.  If nobody would disagree with the claim, it may be too narrow (or it may have no exigence).  If there are many legitimate opposing arguments, the claim might be to broad in scope.

What reasons could the writer give?
What opposing arguments would the writer need to refute?

If the writer can support the claim by proving a few reasons and by refuting a couple of opposing arguments, the claim is appropriate in scope. 

Show a few more examples on an overhead transparency (include at least one that won’t work—in these examples, the claim about value is somewhat moot while also being too broad in scope):

Claim about cause and effect:     Fast food advertising increases obesity.

Possible reasons: It makes over-eating seem normal.
  It manipulates people into wanting fast food.
  It encourages children to eat unhealthy food.

What other reasons could the writer use to support the claim?
What opposing arguments will an academic audience be most likely to bring up?

Claim about value:     The U.S. has a bad relationship with food.

Possible reasons: Many of us eat anxiously
  Many of us eat too much

What other reasons could the writer use to support the claim?
What opposing arguments will an academic audience be most likely to bring up?

Claim about policy or solution:    Happy Meals should be abolished.

Possible reasons: They include unhealthy food
  They establish bad eating habits in the very young
  They make it too easy for parents to ignore their child’s nutrition

What other reasons could the writer use to support the claim?
What opposing arguments will an academic audience be most likely to bring up?

Ask students to “test” one of the claims they've written by brainstorming reasons and opposing arguments for it.  Once the class has had time to work on their own for a bit, ask a few students to write a claim, reasons, and opposing arguments on the board.  Talk these through with the class just as you did with the examples.  Be sure to point out any problems you see if the class is being “too nice.”  Likewise, if the class is finding fault with everything, show them the ways in which the examples could work. 

This work could get students started on a "zero-draft," i.e. a very early attempt to articulate their argument that they don't have to commit to. 

Homework (Due Day 16)
Read each of the explanations and decide on your top two topics for the academic argument.

Read about argument and claims on pages 471-478 of the PHG.  Write four different possible claims for your argument: a claim of fact or definition, a claim about cause and effect, a claim about value, and a claim about solutions or policies.  Bring these claims to class next time.  You won’t have to use any of these claims for your argument, so don’t worry if they’re not “perfect.”

Read “The Argument Culture” by Deborah Tannen on pages 436-443 of the PHG.  Be ready to talk about Tannen’s definition of “argument” and how it does or doesn’t coincide with your definition of “argument.

Bring your four claims and your PHG to class next time.

Homework (Due Day 17)
Write a zero-draft for your academic argument.
Bring your zero-draft to your conference at the time you signed up for in class.