Teaching Argumentation: Activities and Games for the Classroom

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Ensure students develop the argumentation and critical-thinking skills they need for academic and lifetime success. Discover 10 fun, engaging activities and games for teaching argumentation that align with the CCSS. Incorporate these tools into your instruction to help students develop their ability to present and support claims, distinguish fact and opinion, identify errors in reasoning, and debate constructively.

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Chapter 1: I Think, I Like, I Believe

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I Think, I Like, I Believe

For lower elementary students

This circle-based game is designed to introduce young students to the concept of an opinion. It can be played three ways: (1) students practice responding to opinions, (2) students practice expressing opinions, or (3) students practice distinguishing between facts and opinions.

Setup

Arrange the place markers (see materials list) in a large circle. In addition to the facts and opinions from appendix A (page 209), teachers can come up with their own list of facts and/or opinions in advance, or make them up on the fly during the game. Teachers should be prepared to explain and provide examples of different facts and opinions.

Opinions should be simple and relatable to students so that they may decide whether or not they agree. To illustrate, a personal statement such as “I love my dog Lucky” is not a great option because students have probably never met your dog Lucky. The following list includes examples of the types of opinions teachers might generate:

 

Chapter 2: Opinion Scoot

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Opinion Scoot

For middle elementary students

Opinion Scoot is based on a popular stations activity called “Scoot” (sometimes called “Scooch” or “Skedaddle”) in which students rotate from desk to desk and respond to a different question at each one. In this adaptation, we have added an element in which students vote on specific questions by dropping tokens in cups at each station. This game is designed to give elementary students practice with stating opinions and explaining their reasoning. To play, students need basic reading, writing, and counting skills. They do not need to know terms like claim, grounds, backing, or qualifier, nor do they need to be perfect spellers, fluent readers, or master grammarians.

Setup

We recommend setting up students’ desks for this game before they arrive in the room. First, lay a question card face up on each desk. Teachers can use the premade question cards at the end of this chapter (see pages 63–68), or they can make their own.

 

Chapter 3: Fishing for Facts

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Fishing for Facts

For upper elementary students

Fishing for Facts is designed to give elementary students practice with the foundational skill of distinguishing fact from opinion. This game is loosely based on Apple Picking, a physical education game in Susan L. Kasser’s (1995) book Inclusive Games: Movement Fun for Everyone! In that game, students hurry from one area of the gymnasium to another, grab a puffball, hurry back, and toss it into a crate. Students playing Fishing for Facts similarly rush from one area of the classroom to another, but with the added element of sorting facts and opinions into two separate buckets. To play, students must be fairly independent in their ability to distinguish facts from opinions. Teachers’ ability to provide guidance depends on the number of teams the class is split into, with fewer teams allowing for more teacher coaching.

Setup

First, divide students into teams. The simplest option is to split the class into two teams, but you can have as many teams as you like. Each team needs two buckets, with one labeled “Facts” and one labeled “Opinions.” Students line up behind their team’s buckets on one side of the room.

 

Chapter 4: Argument Relay

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Argument Relay

For upper elementary, middle school, and high school students

This game takes the form of a traditional relay race, in which each teammate completes one part of the race before being relieved by a different teammate. In this version, teams of students race to form a complete argument, with each teammate adding a different element to a teacher-provided claim. Playing Argument Relay gives students opportunities to generate grounds for claims with which they may or may not themselves agree. This prompts students to consider various perspectives on an issue. To enhance the rigor of the game, teachers can also ask students to identify errors in reasoning.

Setup

First, divide the class into teams. We recommend including four students on each team, although teams can be as large or as small as you want, so long as you adjust the number of grounds needed to win the relay (for example, if there are five students instead of four, teams will need to generate five grounds instead of four). Each team sits in a row, either at desks or on the floor (if students are sitting on the floor, each will need a hard surface, like a clipboard, to write on). Give a recording sheet to the first student in each row. Stand at the front of the room with your list of selected claims (see appendix B on page 215).

 

Chapter 5: Rapid Fire

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Rapid Fire

For upper elementary, middle school, and high school students

Rapid Fire is a fast-paced dueling game in which pairs of students race to answer a question. The game is based on the head-to-head version of Pepper from Doug Lemov’s (2010) book Teach Like a Champion and has been modified for use as an argument game. Rapid Fire is meant to be a review, not an introduction to new material. It is specifically intended to develop students’ fluency with argumentation—in other words, their ability to recognize elements of a strong argument almost automatically (Marzano, 2007). Teachers can also use Rapid Fire as a filler activity. Start a pickup game while students are standing in line, before the bell rings, or during any other brief period of downtime, such as a warm-up or a brain break.

Setup

To play, elementary students need to be familiar with distinguishing facts from opinions. Middle school students need to understand the difference between a claim and backing and be able to recognize the three different types of backing (expert opinion, research results, and factual information). High school students need to understand the three types of backing and be able to recognize qualifiers.

 

Chapter 6: Which One Doesn’t Belong?

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Which One Doesn’t Belong?

For upper elementary, middle school, and high school students

Which One Doesn’t Belong? is based on a segment on the children’s series Sesame Street called “One of These Things Is Not Like the Others.” In the television version of the game, a group of four items is displayed, one of which differs somehow from the other three, and young viewers choose the item that does not fit. The game has since enjoyed adaptation for use in puzzles, websites, and games, including a classroom vocabulary game (Carleton & Marzano, 2010). Unlike the television show, the spin-off described in this book is not intended for preschoolers. Instead, it is designed to help upper elementary, middle, and high school students practice recognizing the various elements of effective arguments.

Setup

To play, elementary students must be able to distinguish evidence that supports an opinion from evidence that does not. Middle school students must understand the need for backing to support grounds and claims, as well as the three different types of backing (expert opinion, research results, and factual information). High school students need to understand the concept of a qualifier. They also need to know how to identify biased language, which is part of evaluating persuasive rhetoric (pages 34–35). Some high school questions ask students to identify qualifiers; others ask them to identify biased terms in statements.

 

Chapter 7: Text Evidence Bingo

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Text Evidence Bingo

For upper elementary, middle school, and high school students

This game, based on the classic game of chance, gives students practice with generating claims and identifying grounds to support them, particularly those that involve citing textual evidence. The game is flexible enough to allow for ample variation in subject matter and game play. It can be modified to suit multiple content areas (language arts, science, and social studies) and works best with students who are very familiar with using textual evidence.

Setup

Prepare a set of claims about a particular text for students to fill in on their blank bingo boards. You can either (1) use one of the sets of claims provided at the end of this chapter (pages 120–158), (2) create a set of claims yourself, or (3) lead a content-related brainstorming session to create a list of claims with your class.

Make sure to come up with more claims to choose from than there are spaces on the board (that is, at least twenty-six items). The types of claims you use will vary by content area. For example, if you teach high school language arts, you could play the game to practice using textual evidence to support claims about a class novel. During a previous lesson, the class brainstorms a long list of themes present in a novel and claims that can be made about those themes. For example, if you are practicing using evidence to make claims for themes in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, one list item may read, “Dwelling in the past can prevent you from moving forward into the future.” As previously mentioned, this list of claims should contain at least twenty-six items by the end of the brainstorming session, because you want students’ boards to be as varied as possible to avoid ties.

 

Chapter 8: Rhetoric Memory

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Rhetoric Memory

For middle school and high school students

In Rhetoric Memory, which is based on the classic game Memory, students identify two expressions of the same concept (which have different connotations) and match them together. The student with the most matched pairs at the end of the game wins. Here’s the catch: in order to keep a match, a student must explain the connotations of both expressions.

Setup

To play, middle school students must understand the terms connotation and denotation and be able to identify various connotations of words with similar definitions. Additionally, high school students must understand how to evaluate persuasive rhetoric.

Create a set of cards for each group of students. Cards must be printed as double-sided copies and then cut apart. When created properly, one side of the card will show a term with a connotative meaning and the other side will show the definition for the term. To illustrate, figure 8.1 (page 162) shows the front and back sides of a matching pair.

 

Chapter 9: Claim Capers

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Claim Capers

For middle school and high school students

Claim Capers is a game designed to teach middle and high school students to use their powers of observation and close-reading skills to find and present evidence. The idea to use picture mysteries to teach students to support claims with evidence comes from a book by George Hillocks Jr. (2011) called Teaching Argument Writing, Grades 6–12. In the book, Hillocks outlines a detailed process for drawing conclusions, identifying evidence, and explaining how the evidence supports the claim. In this game, small groups of students inspect the scene of a crime and use their observations to decide what happened, why, and who is responsible. When the students come together to discuss their conclusions, the group with the most evidence to support its case wins!

Setup

The most important item that teachers must prepare for Claim Capers is a picture mystery, such as the one in figure 9.1 (page 174). The picture mystery depicted in figure 9.1 comes from Lawrence Treat’s (1982) Crime and Puzzlement 2: More Solve-Them-Yourself Picture Mysteries. Treat is a renowned mystery writer who has worked with various illustrators to create entire volumes of picture mysteries, including the Crime and Puzzlement (1981, 1982) series and the children’s book You’re the Detective! (2010), which contains nonviolent crime puzzles for the younger set. His picture mysteries always include (1) an image of the scene, as shown in figure 9.1, (2) a short description of how the investigators came upon the scene, as well as any suspects that may be involved and other information not included in the picture, and (3) a set of questions that illuminate various pieces of evidence and guide the reader through solving the mystery. Unlike many other quick-solve crime puzzles, which often hinge on one crucial piece of evidence (such as a minute detail in a suspect’s story that reveals he or she is lying), Treat’s picture mysteries usually include several different clues that the reader adds together to solve the case. Because the object of this game is to produce as much supporting evidence as possible, Treat’s evidence-heavy mysteries work splendidly.

 

Chapter 10: Convince the Crowd

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Convince the Crowd

For high school students

Convince the Crowd is a competitive debate game in which the teacher proposes a motion and two panels of students discuss it. Before a single speech is made, an audience of classmates votes either in favor of the motion or against it. The audience casts their votes on the same motion a second time after the debate takes place, allowing everyone to see which side has persuaded the most audience members to change their vote. The side that has the highest percentage difference between before votes and after votes is declared the winner.

This game is recommended for high school students who have had lots of practice with research and argumentation. It works especially well in language arts, science, and social studies classes. The game is modeled after Intelligence Squared (stylized as intelligence2 or IQ2) debates (www.intelligencesquared.com). Motions in past Intelligence Squared debates cover a broad spectrum of topics, from politics (“The rich are taxed enough”) to environmental issues (“The natural gas boom is doing more harm than good”) to entertainment (“Ban college football”). We highly recommend showing one of these debates to students so they can get an overall picture of what a debate looks like and an idea of what form their classroom debates should take.

 

Appendix A: Facts and Opinions

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Appendix A Facts and Opinions

Organized by level of difficulty

This appendix can be used for:

I Think, I Like, I Believe

Fishing for Facts

Rapid Fire

The following tables contain lists of facts and opinions to use in elementary classrooms. Middle school teachers may also decide to consult these lists for review with sixth- or seventh-grade students. The statements presented in these lists are generally designed to require little to no background knowledge to distinguish them as facts or opinions.

The facts and opinions are organized by difficulty into three tables: easy, medium, and challenging. Each table contains a set of seventy facts and opinions to use with students. Groupings are based on the complexity of the vocabulary used and the amount of content knowledge a student needs to recognize facts. Use preassessments and your judgment as a teacher to determine which list to use with your students. To illustrate, consider the following fact from the challenging list: “The eight planets in the solar system are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.” A first grader may or may not be familiar with the eight planets, but a fifth grader almost certainly will. Similarly, an easy fact, such as “One plus one equals two,” while appropriate for early elementary students, will not challenge students in upper elementary.

 

Appendix B: Claims

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Appendix B Claims

Organized by grade level

This appendix can be used for:

Argument Relay

Convince the Crowd

The following tables contain lists of claims to use in the classroom. While the claims are meant to be used with the aforementioned games, they also make excellent topics for class discussion, prompts for essay-writing exercises, or subjects for research reports. Furthermore, the claims in each list pertain to an array of different content areas (including language arts, science, social studies, mathematics, foreign language studies, and the fine arts), which makes teaching argumentation relevant and achievable in a variety of classrooms.

The claims are organized by grade level, with one list each for elementary, middle, and high school students. Each of the three lists contains one hundred claims to use with students in that grade range; there are three hundred unique claims in total. Claims have been classified into grade levels based on subject matter, requisite background knowledge, and level of external research required, as well as by vocabulary and complexity of the claim itself. As with the facts and opinions listed in appendix A (page 209), teachers should feel free to use the claims that are most appropriate for their specific groups of students, even if we have placed them at a different level. For example, if a teacher gives context, leads a class discussion, and rewords it, a high school claim can become a middle school claim, a middle school claim can become an elementary claim, and so on. Elementary and middle school claims can also be made more complex to be used at the high school level. For example, the simple elementary school claim “All kids should learn karate” might be adapted for high school students as “Women in college should be required to take self-defense courses,” which encompasses a wider range of issues at a much higher level of complexity.

 

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