Hacks for the Argumentative Essay Counterclaim

 

Find out how I help my middle school students remember the structure of a counterclaim in an argumentative essay!



When teaching the counterclaim to my middle school students, there are actually two ways we could go:  embed the counterclaim in the body paragraphs OR write a separate counterclaim paragraph.


I taught at one middle school in my district where they taught the embedded counterclaim and I am currently at a school that teaches the separate counterclaim paragraph.


Embedded Counterclaim

I have to be honest with you, I think that this is the most academically sound way to teach counterclaims because I am convinced that this creates a stronger argument and a stronger essay as a whole.  Why?


1.  When you write a body paragraph for an argumentative essay, you are already providing evidence for the essay's position and it makes sense to admit in that paragraph that there is an opposition to the idea but clearly the evidence that has been provided refutes it.  There creates a smooth progression that literally leads the reader down the path of your argument.  It's a very tight organizational structure.


2.  In Florida, this is what is shown as an example of a perfect paper and is even evident in the papers slightly less than perfect.  In fact, in none of the example essays does one find a separate counterclaim paragraph.


So what hacks did I use to teach the embedded counterclaim?

1.  ARGUE

A - Answer with the claim + one reason from the thesis

R - Respond to opposing claims

G - Give evidence for the essay's position

U - Underscore the evidence with commentary

E - End with a conclusion


This is exact pattern I used to teach my middle school students in the first middle school I mentioned.  Of course, students had to repeat the G and U for a second piece of evidence but they made a little song/chant to go with it and it wasn't an issue.  And when it came time for them to take an essay test, they didn't freeze because they had a pattern on which to rely.


Want to use ARGUE with your own students?  I have a full unit that uses this pattern to teach an argumentative essay complete with a prompt, texts, foldables, notes and a PowerPoint.  


If you teach middle school students to write argumentative essays with embedded counterclaims, then this easy to use unit with texts, foldables, notes and organizers is for you!




2.  ACE IIT

A - Answer with the claim and one reason from the thesis

C - Cite evidence

E - Explain with commentary

I - Ingeminate (repeat the cycle of cite and explain with new evidence)

IC - Insert counterclaim (Some say___ but this is not accurate because_____)

T - Top it off with a conclusion.


The year that the school went to the counterclaim paragraph idea they allowed me to continue with the embedded counterclaim using ACE IIT to see if the test scores would prove that embedding counterclaims would score better or worse than a separate counterclaim paragraph.  You know what?  I had the highest scores.  And I didn't have all honors classes.  In fact, I had two classes that were only beginning English Language Learners.


This way to embed a counterclaim was in an effort to streamline my mnemonics that I use with informative essays and increase retention and usability by the students.  I used to tell them that there were just 3 key differences between the informative and argumentative - which is so much easier to remember!

1.  Introduction paragraph bridge has to state both sides

2.  The essay must take ONE side

3.  Add in an extra I in ACE IT for counterclaim.  (I teach an ACE IT mnemonic for body paragraphs that do not have counterclaims.)


The idea that the two kinds of essays have the same basic structure (with the 3 exceptions) actually helps students feel more confident in their abilities.  Of course, it helps to practice by having students just take out a blank sheet of paper and write our the mnemonics and what they stand for too.  I did this and on the day of the state test, that's exactly what I saw students do - and they scored better than some of their "advanced" peers!



 


Separate Counterclaim Paragraph

Now that I am in a Special Needs Co-Teaching type of position, I have to go with the flow and support my team in their endeavor to teach students to write a counterclaim paragraph.  To help them, I came up with another hack - aka mnemonic  - based on how they teach this paragraph:

F - Feature the other side (the opposing claim)
A - Affirm the opposing claim with evidence
U - Underscore the essay's position (refuting the opposing claim)
C - Cite evidence (for the essay's position)
E - Explain with commentary
T - Top it off with a conclusion

I tell the students that the mnemonic is FAUCET because this is the section of the essay where we "pour it on" or "turn it up" in terms of making the case for our position in the essay.

This paragraph becomes our third body paragraph in an argumentative essay.   Our other 2 body paragraphs follow the same structure as the informative essay with the pattern I call ACE IT.  You can read more about that by clicking here.

Need lessons to teach argumentative essay writing?  Click here to view my argumentative digital and printable unit that teaches separate counterclaim paragraphs.  


How did we practice this?

I have had great success with this collaborative argumentative essay writing activity with a separate counterclaim paragraph using task cards:



There is a task card for each sentence in the essay.  Students work in groups to determine the correct answers and to write out the correct answers on a special planning sheet.  Then, they determine where the paragraph breaks are and write out the essay.  If students have chosen the correct answers, all pf the essay should be identical which means MUCH LESS GRADING for you!

I also have some great organizers and sentence starters to give students a reference to look back on as they are writing essays or working with practice materials for both separate counterclaim paragraphs and embedded counterclaims.




So, now you have all my examples of how I have taught argumentative essay counterclaims.  Obviously there is no one right way to do this and I hope that some of these ideas help you in your essay teaching journey!    Thanks for stopping by!

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There are two great ways to ensure your middle school students have a counterclaim in their argumentative essays!


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