Teaching Argumentative Essay Writing

Get some new ideas for teaching Argumentative Essay writing to your middle school students!  #strategies #ideas #tips

Having been in the classroom for 26 years this year, I have had a lot of experiences with essay writing.  I've been invloved in teaching using various programs, styles and state mandates.  As a result, I've tried A LOT of different methods and experimented with A LOT of different ideas.

However, there are some things that always remain the same.  Like the fact that students need to know basic vocabulary before they be expected to use that vocabulary.  I think far too often, teachers assume students know the definitions, when really they don't.  Good, fundamental writing never changes either. One will always need a thesis, evidence and commentary.  How one puts this all together can be a topic for debate, but overall, what I am sharing here has been the common thread throughout my teaching career.

Teaching Argumentative Essay Writing

1.  I always start with vocabulary for Argumentative Essays.  

We define words like cite, evidence, irrelevant, relevant, claim, opposing claim and so on.  We actually keep a notebook with these terms along with pictures to help us remember them.  They are scaffolded and differentiated so that every person can get what they need to be successful.  Each version has the same content so I can have all 4 versions out in the same class at the same time!

I always start with vocabulary using these scaffolded and differentiated notes before I begin teaching my middle school students how to write Argumentative Essays.

Then we practice with the words by playing dominoes. Students really need to have these words committed to memory before moving on to the next phase.  

2.  Next we focus on the structure of the Argumentative Essay.  

At my school, we currently teach text-based essay writing with a counterclaim paragraph.  So that means we have an introduction with a hook (background information), an arch (bridge/transition sentence), and a thesis followed by 2 paragraphs that provide evidence for the claim, 1 counterclaim paragraph and finally a conclusion.

I break down this instruction step-by step and paragraph by paragraph.  We start with reading the prompt, then flipping the prompt, and finally reading and marking the text.  We record all of this in our notebooks too.  

Then as we explore what needs to be in each paragraph, each sentence is broken down into what it must contain and the order in which it must appear.  This is the foundation.  Of course as students become more proficient, they will add in more word choice and voice to demonstrate their maturity.  However, until then, they need a formula to follow.

I teach my middle school students a step-by-step process for writing argumentative essays as a foundation.  #strategies #tips

My formula is:

Introduction =HAT  (Just like you put a hat on the top of your head, you put a hat on the top of your essay.)
Hook (background information about the texts)
Arch (Bridge transition sentence)

Body = ACEIT  (Ace it)
Answer with a claim and reason
Cite Evidence
Expalin with Commentary
Ingeminate (fancy word that means to repeat - repeat the cycle fo cite and explain with NEW evidence)
Top it off with a conclusion

Counterclaim = FAUCET (turn it up!)
Feature the other side
Affirm the evidence
Underscore the essay's position
Cite Evidence
Explain with commentary
Top it off with a conclusion

Conclusion = ATT (What's the last thing you grab before you leave home?  You phone, your AT & T!)
Affirm the thesis
Trim the point
The call to action

My notes use this formula and I also have a FREE Word Wall that matches this formula.  This helps my students not only remember key words but also the structure of the essay too!

Now, there's a digital version of this formula complete with notes, embedded videos, organizers, self-grading quizzes and more!

3.  Finally, we practice!

Some people think practice means writing essay after essay. Nope!  That's too much for the students and W-A-Y too much to grade!  

So, may I first suggest collaborative essay writing?

This is a great way to practice argumentative essay writing without tons of grading!  #teaching #middleschool

This activity requires students to read and mark a text first and then work together to write an essay.  It is task card based and there is one task card for each sentence in the essay.  I put students in groups of 4 and taped a task card to each desk.    

Let's say, for example, that one of the questions asked "What is the best hook for this essay?"  The students would work together to choose the best answer and write the answer out in its entirety on their answer sheet next to the number on the sheet that matched the number on the card.  

When the group was done with all 4 task cards, I moved them to another group of cards.  When the students had filled in every box on the answer sheet, they had an essay!  Now all they had to do was divide it up into separate paragraphs using their organizer.

I used this activity with an all English Language Learner class and as we were completing this activity, all I kept hearing was "Oh!  Now I get it!".  I think this was because looking at the choices and having to talk it out really made them think!

Now that things are clicking, students are hopefully ready for the Essay Challenge!  

Give your middle school students this essay challenge with a reward and they will WANT to practice essay writing!  #teaching #ideas

This challenge requires students to go through each step of the writing process and write most of an argumentative essay.  As they complete each step accurately, they get your initials and one puzzle piece.  

By the end of the designated time (it was 5 days in my class), students earn whatever their assembled puzzle shows.  Some students only earned a few items but other earned the entire puzzle worth of treats!  Our puzzle was of "mud pies" - pudding cups with all kinds of mix-ins - but you could choose any reward!   The students were motivated by the challenge of earning all their puzzle pieces and they were learning at the same time!

I hope some of these ideas help your students experience more success with text-based argumentative essay writing.  They have helped my students earn perfect scores of "10" and many 6, 7 and  8s.  And this was not just my advanced students - my students with special needs and those learning English earned these scores too so I know these ideas work!

Thanks for stopping by!

Plan out your Argumentative Essay Writing Lessons using some or all of these strategies!  #teaching #ideas