Each day, I begin my ELA class with Reading Time. This is a time for students to access a range of texts. I use this time to conference with students, collect data on class patterns and trends with independent reading and to provide individualized support.
One of the biggest shifts of the Common Core is the emphasis on argument writing. As a preliminary introduction to this type of writing, I designed a lesson as a preassessment. Instead of spending time throughout the unit teaching students what they already know, I want to start the unit this way so I can figure out how to focus the rest of the unit. It gives me an opportunity to see what students are able to do. I don't often use a lot of preassessments but with a unit like this it can be helpful since argument is new to many of them.
I start the lesson by pulling up the Argument Preassessment Presentation Smart Notebook file on the Smartboard (and here is the PDF version: Argument Preassessment Presentation PDF). This takes the class through the steps for the days lesson.
Starting with the first slide, I start by having a short class discussion on the quote by George Bernard Shaw, "The moment we want to believe something, we suddenly see all the arguments for it, and become blind to the arguments against it." I ask what the quote means and how we can apply it to writing. This quote works well as a way to see what their thoughts on argument may be. I hope that they view argument as more than just trying to win people over. I want to see if they are able to think about argument writing as looking at both sides. It also helps to focus students thinking for the lesson.
The next slide asks to list the qualities and characteristics of argument writing. We do this as a class. Students call out answers and I write these answers on the Smartboard. Another option is to have them discuss the qualities with a partner as a think, pair, share. The lists that we create helps me to determine if students remember and have an understanding of what goes in argument writing from previous years. I can review this list later to determine what areas need to review throughout the unit.
This video discusses the different qualities and how I would use them to design my unit: Qualities Of Argument Writing Discussion Explanation
The last slide gives students direction for their writing for today's lesson. I couple students based on ability. With their partner, they will create a piece in which they have to argue whether or not schools should be responsible for investigating and punishing cyberbullying. This topic is of high-interest and gets students engaged. They will have today's class and next class to work on this piece. This helps to serve as not only standardized test prep but also as a preassessment. I can see how their general writing skills are with argument writing and what areas I need to focus on throughout the unit.
Students spend the rest of the class working on that argument writing piece that focuses on cyberbullying. They meet with their partner and collaboratively create the essay. Writing with a partner can be incredibly challenging to manage. 8th graders have quite the personalities at times so it's important to be mindful of that when partnering them, especially when partnering them up with an issue that can be a little controversial. I purposely make groups based on personality, not ability. I want students to be able to work and work well together.
As students are working I tell them that I will not be answering questions. I do this purposely. I want to see if students are able to answer their own questions and make their own decisions when it comes to argument writing. This is almost like an unnofficial test. I can see what they know how to do and what they don't know how to do. From there I can structure the rest of the unit once I get these pieces from the students.
I do circulate around the room to make sure they are on task. Since they are using technology, many groups use Google Drive to collaborate, I monitor their technology use.
Here is an example of the beginning of a group's work: Cyberbullying Argument Prewriting Student Example.