Arguing Both Sides: Collaborative Writing

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Brainstorm and organize information for a body paragraph in an essay that demonstrates focus and includes supporting details and persuasive elements.

Big Idea

Cells phones in the classroom? Brainstorm and draft an argument with a partner.

Evaluate the Evidence

15 minutes

Tomorrow the class will take the assessment for this unit on argument reading and writing, so we will spend this period working on a task that I notice most of the students are still struggling with: writing body paragraphs that include details that are distinct and that do not overlap and elaborating on each detail by providing an explanation or example. The goal for this class is to fill in graphic organizers for the body paragraphs. It is not likely, nor expected, that there will be enough time to write out sample essays. (Although, I will be pleased if there is!) To do this we use materials from yesterday’s class. Everyone should have a copy of the article “Ocean Springs School Allows Students to Use Cell Phones in Class” by Trang Pham-Bui and the T-charts with reasons for and reasons against the use of cell phones in school. 

As a class, we review the information and identify the three strongest reasons for each side of the argument. These will become the main ideas for the body paragraphs. The list for each side appears here for the pros and here for the cons.

Let’s Get Organized!

20 minutes

By this time the students are well aware of the both sides of the issue, so they are prepared for what comes next. I divide the class in half and assign each side a topic: one for the use of cell phones in school and the other against the use of cell phones in school. Then I divide each side into three sections one for each of the main ideas. Students then work with their same ‘shoulder’ (the person beside them) partner from yesterday to fill in the argument map. They must include all parts: a main idea sentence that introduces the topic, three supporting reasons including evidence for each, an opposing claim with a response, and a concluding sentence. In addition, they must include at least one reference to the article. It takes the students writing against cell phone use a little bit of time to work it out, but they eventually realize that the best place for them to reference the article is as an opposing claim.  The opposing claim can be in the form of a direct quote or by paraphrasing the text. Using a graphic organizer - the argument map - that the students are familiar with has its benefits:


Wrap Up

15 minutes

To end class, students who wrote on the same side of the issue share the specific details included on their graphic organizers. Then the whole class discusses insights into the writing process. Because this activity was done somewhat in isolation (partners working on only one of three body paragraphs), examining them together reveals a lot of overlap. For example, one set of partners placed “finding ways to get around the school’s filtering system” as detail in a paragraph about cheating, while another group used the same detail in a paragraph about surfing the internet as a distraction from learning. Such a situation provides the perfect example of the need for carefully planning an essay so that each paragraph has distinct main ideas and specific details that are not repeated elsewhere.