argument writing middle school

How to Teach Argument Writing Step-By-Step

argument writing middle school

No doubt, teaching argument writing to middle school students can be tricky. Even the word “argumentative” is off-putting, bringing to mind pointless bickering. But once I came up with argument writing lessons that were both fun and effective, I quickly saw the value in it. And so did my students.

You see, we teachers have an ace up our sleeve. It’s a known fact that from ages 11-14, kids love nothing more than to fire up a good ole battle royale with just about anybody within spitting distance.

Yup. So we’re going to use their powers of contradiction to OUR advantage by showing them how to use our argument writing lessons to power up their real-life persuasion skills. Your students will be knocking each other over in the hall to get to the room first!

I usually plan on taking about three weeks on the entire argument writing workshop. However, there are years when I’ve had to cut it down to two, and that works fine too.

Here are the step-by-step lessons I use to teach argument writing. It might be helpful to teachers who are new to teaching the argument, or to teachers who want to get back to the basics. If it seems formulaic, that’s because it is. In my experience, that’s the best way to get middle school students started.

Prior to Starting the Writer’s Workshop

A couple of weeks prior to starting your unit, assign some quick-write journal topics. I pick one current event topic a day, and I ask students to express their opinion about the topic.

Quick-writes get the kids thinking about what is going on in the world and makes choosing a topic easier later on.

Define Argumentative Writing

I’ll never forget the feeling of panic I had in 7th grade when my teacher told us to start writing an expository essay on snowstorms. How could I write an expository essay if I don’t even know what expository MEANS, I whined to my middle school self.

We can’t assume our students know or remember what argumentative writing is, even if we think they should know. So we have to tell them. Also, define claim and issue while you’re at it.

Establish Purpose

I always tell my students that learning to write an effective argument is key to learning critical thinking skills and is an important part of school AND real-life writing.

We start with a fictional scenario every kid in the history of kids can relate to.

ISSUE : a kid wants to stay up late to go to a party vs. AUDIENCE : the strict mom who likes to say no.

The “party” kid writes his mom a letter that starts with a thesis and a claim: I should be permitted to stay out late to attend the part for several reasons.

By going through this totally relatable scenario using a modified argumentative framework, I’m able to demonstrate the difference between persuasion and argument, the importance of data and factual evidence, and the value of a counterclaim and rebuttal.

Students love to debate whether or not strict mom should allow party kid to attend the party. More importantly, it’s a great way to introduce the art of the argument, because kids can see how they can use the skills to their personal advantage.

Persuasive Writing Differs From Argument Writing

At the middle school level, students need to understand persuasive and argument writing in a concrete way. Therefore, I keep it simple by explaining that both types of writing involve a claim. However, in persuasive writing, the supporting details are based on opinions, feelings, and emotions, while in argument writing the supporting details are based on researching factual evidence.

I give kids a few examples to see if they can tell the difference between argumentation and persuasion before we move on.

Argumentative Essay Terminology

In order to write a complete argumentative essay, students need to be familiar with some key terminology . Some teachers name the parts differently, so I try to give them more than one word if necessary:

  • thesis statement
  • bridge/warrant
  • counterclaim/counterargument*
  • turn-back/refutation

*If you follow Common Core Standards, the counterargument is not required for 6th-grade argument writing. All of the teachers in my school teach it anyway, and I’m thankful for that when the kids get to 7th grade.

Organizing the Argumentative Essay

I teach students how to write a step-by-step 5 paragraph argumentative essay consisting of the following:

  • Introduction : Includes a lead/hook, background information about the topic, and a thesis statement that includes the claim.
  • Body Paragraph #1 : Introduces the first reason that the claim is valid. Supports that reason with facts, examples, and/or data.
  • Body Paragraph #2 : The second reason the claim is valid. Supporting evidence as above.
  • Counterargument (Body Paragraph #3): Introduction of an opposing claim, then includes a turn-back to take the reader back to the original claim.
  • Conclusion : Restates the thesis statement, summarizes the main idea, and contains a strong concluding statement that might be a call to action.

Mentor Texts

If we want students to write a certain way, we should provide high-quality mentor texts that are exact models of what we expect them to write.

I know a lot of teachers will use picture books or editorials that present arguments for this, and I can get behind that. But only if specific exemplary essays are also used, and this is why.

If I want to learn Italian cooking, I’m not going to just watch the Romanos enjoy a holiday feast on Everybody Loves Raymond . I need to slow it down and follow every little step my girl Lidia Bastianich makes.

The same goes for teaching argument writing. If we want students to write 5 paragraph essays, that’s what we should show them.

In fact, don’t just display those mentor texts like a museum piece. Dissect the heck out of those essays. Pull them apart like a Thanksgiving turkey. Disassemble the essay sentence by sentence and have the kids label the parts and reassemble them. This is how they will learn how to structure their own writing.

Also, encourage your detectives to evaluate the evidence. Ask students to make note of how the authors use anecdotes, statistics, and facts. Have them evaluate the evidence and whether or not the writer fully analyzes it and connects it to the claim.

This is absolutely the best way for kids to understand the purpose of each part of the essay.

Research Time

Most of my students are not very experienced with performing research when we do this unit, so I ease them into it. (Our “big” research unit comes later in the year with our feature article unit .)

I start them off by showing this short video on how to find reliable sources. We use data collection sheets and our school library’s database for research. There are also some awesome, kid-friendly research sites listed on the Ask a Tech Teacher Blog .

Step-By-Step Drafting

The bedrock of drafting is to start with a solid graphic organizer. I have to differentiate for my writers, and I’ve found they have the most success when I offer three types of graphic organizers.

1- Least Support: This is your standard graphic organizer. It labels each paragraph and has a dedicated section for each part of the paragraph.

2- Moderate Support: This one has labels and sections, but also includes sentence stems for each sentence in the paragraph.

3- Most Support: This one has labels and sections and also includes fill-in-the-blank sentence frames . It’s perfect for my emerging writers, and as I’ve mentioned previously, students do NOT need the frames for long and soon become competent and independent writers.

Writing the Introduction

The introduction has three parts and purposes.

First, it has a hook or lead. While it should be about the topic, it shouldn’t state the writer’s position on the topic. I encourage students to start with a quote by a famous person, an unusual detail, a statistic, or a fact.

Kids will often try to start with a question, but I discourage that unless their question also includes one of the other strategies. Otherwise, I end up with 100 essays that start with, “Do you like sharks?” Lol

Next, it’s time to introduce the issue. This is the background information that readers need in order to understand the controversy.

Last, students should state the claim in the thesis statement. I call it a promise to the reader that the essay will deliver by proving that the claim is valid.

Writing the Supporting Body Paragraphs

Each supporting body paragraph should start with a topic sentence that introduces the idea and states the reason why the claim is valid. The following sentences in the paragraph should support that reason with facts, examples, data, or expert opinions. The bridge is the sentence that connects that piece of evidence to the argument’s claim. The concluding sentence should restate the reason.

Writing the Counterclaim Paragraph

The counterclaim paragraph is a very important aspect of argument writing. It’s where we introduce an opposing argument and then confidently take the reader back to the original argument. I tell students that it’s necessary to “get in the head” of the person who might not agree with their claim, by predicting their objections.

It can be tough for kids to “flip the switch” on their own argument, so I like to practice this a bit. I give them several pairs of transitions that go together to form a counterclaim and rebuttal. I also switch up what I call this part so that they use the terminology interchangeably.

  • It might seem that [ counterargument . ]However, [ turn-back .]
  • Opponents may argue that [ counterargument .] Nevertheless, [ turn back .]
  • A common argument against this position is [ counterargument .] Yet, [ turn-back .]

A great way for kids to practice this is to have them work with partners to write a few counterarguments together. I let them practice by giving them easy role-playing topics.

  • Your cousins want to jump into a poison ivy grove for a TikTok challenge. Choose your position on this and write a counterargument and turn-back.
  • Your friend wants to get a full-face tattoo of their boyfriend’s name. Choose your position on this and write a counterargument and turn-back.

This kind of practice makes the counterargument much more clear.

The concluding paragraph should remind the reader of what was argued in the essay and why it matters. It might also suggest solutions or further research that could be done on the topic. Or students can write a call to action that asks the reader to perform an action in regard to the information they’ve just learned.

My students write about local issues and then turn the essays into letters to our superintendent, school board, or state senators. It’s an amazing way to empower kids and to show them that their opinion matters. I’ve written about that here and I’ve included the sentence frames for the letters in my argumentative writing unit.

I hope this gives you a good overview of teaching argument writing. Please leave any questions below. Please also share your ideas, because we all need all the help we can give each other!

And one more thing. Don’t be surprised if parents start asking you to tone down the unit because it’s become harder to tell their kids why they can’t stay up late for parties. 🙂

Stay delicious!

argument writing middle school

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Making a Claim: Teaching Students Argument Writing Through Close Reading

We know students in the middle grades can make an argument to throw a pizza party, to get out of[…] Continue Reading

argument writing middle school

We know students in the middle grades can make an argument to throw a pizza party, to get out of detention or to prove a point. So, why do they find it hard to craft strong arguments from text? The skill of argumentative or persuasive writing is a skill that’s easier said than done.

Close reading naturally lends itself to teaching argumentative writing. To be sure, it’s not the only way to culminate a close-reading lesson, but as students read, reread and break down text, analyzing author’s arguments and crafting their own can come naturally. 

Argumentative writing isn’t persuasion, and it’s not about conflict or winning. Instead, it’s about creating a claim and supporting that claim with evidence. For example, in this set of writing samples from Achieve the Core , fifth grade students read an article about homework and wrote an argument in response to the question How much homework is too much? One student wrote the claim: I think that students should have enough homework but still have time for fun. Students in third grade should start having 15 minutes a night and work up to a little over an hour by sixth grade. The student goes on to support her claim with evidence from the article she read. It builds responsibility and gives kids a chance to practice.

Argument Example Poster

Here are four ways to build your students’ ability to write arguments through close reading. 

Choose Text Wisely

I don’t think I can say it enough: The most important part of planning close reading is choosing the text . If you want students to be able to create and support an argument, the text has to contain evidence—and lots of it. Look for texts or passages that are worth reading deeply (read: well written with intriguing, worthwhile ideas) and that raise interesting questions that don’t have a right or wrong answer.

PEELS: Help Students Structure Their Arguments

Before students can get creative with their writing, make sure they can structure their arguments. In the PEELS approach, students need to:

  • Make a point.
  • Support it with evidence (and examples).
  • Explain their evidence.
  • Link their points.
  • Maintain a formal style.

Check out this Teachers Pay Teachers resource (free) for an explanation and graphic organizer to use with students. 

Provide Time for Collaboration

When students are allowed to talk about their writing, they craft stronger arguments because they’re provided time to narrow and sharpen their ideas. In his book, Translating Talk Into Text (2014) Thomas McCann outlines two types of conversation that help students prepare to write.

  • Exploratory discussions: These small-group discussions provide space for students to find out what others are thinking and explore the range of possibilities. These conversations should happen after students have read closely, with the goal of building an understanding of what ideas or claims are present within a text.
  • Drafting discussions: After students have participated in exploratory discussion, drafting discussions are a chance for students to come together as a whole group to share and refine their ideas. Drafting discussions start by sharing arguments that students discussed in the exploratory discussions, then provide time for students to explore the arguments and challenge one another. The goal is for students to end the discussion with a clear focus for their writing.

The Incredible Shrinking Argument: Help Students Synthesize

Once students are writing, probably the biggest challenge becomes whittling an argument down to the essentials. To help students do this, have them write their argument on a large sticky note (or in a large text box). Then, have them whittle it twice by revising it and rewriting it on smaller sticky notes (or text boxes) to get the excess ideas or details out. By the time they’re rewriting it on the smallest sticky note (or textbox), they’ll be forced to identify the bones of their argument. (See The Middle School Mouth blog for more on this strategy.)

2012-04-14 09.25.04

Samantha Cleaver is an education writer, former special education teacher and avid reader. Her book, Every Reader a Close Reader, is scheduled to be published by Rowman and Littlefield in 2015. Read more at her blog .

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argument writing middle school

Bell Ringers

Teaching argumentative writing in middle school ela: part one.

If you teach middle school, you know that teenagers have a lot of opinions! Luckily, you can use that to your advantage when teaching students how to write an argumentative essay. The key is to help students learn to craft well-written arguments with evidence (not just arguing for the sake of it, which middle schoolers can be prone to). 

While learning to craft argumentative essays will help students in school, being able to craft and defend an argument is also an important skill for the real world. Writing an argumentative essay or having a debate requires critical thinking skills and the ability to take a stance and back it up. 

argument writing middle school

What is Argumentative Writing?

In order for students to understand how to write an argumentative essay, they need to understand what argumentative writing is.

Argumentative essays usually require that students do some investigation or research on a topic and then choose a clear stance. When writing, students will spend the body of the essay explaining points and providing evidence that supports their stance. A counterargument is also typically given as a way to counteract how “nay-sayers” would disagree with the writer. At the end of the essay, students will restate their argument and summarize their evidence.

How to Introduce Argumentative Writing: The Debate

Now that we know what to expect from argumentative writing, we can get into how to write an argumentative essay. You’ll want to start by introducing argumentative writing, which I liked to do through debates. Just like in an essay, to successfully debate a topic, students must do some investigation, choose a stance, and then argue their point in a meaningful way. Holding a class debate is a great place to start when introducing argumentative writing. Debating a topic verbally can actually be used as a brainstorming session before students ever even put pen to paper. For students new to argumentative writing, this takes some of the pressure off of jumping right into the writing process and helps them generate ideas.

There are a few ways you can use debates. For instance, you can choose a topic you’d like students to debate or let them choose a topic they’re already passionate about. 

I liked to give students a few minutes to think through the topic and prep on their own, and then I partner them up. They can either debate the topic with their partner, or they can work together with their partner to debate another pair. 

Depending on your class size, you could also split the class in half and make it a whole group debate. As long as students are researching or investigating in some way, choosing a stance, and finding reasons to back up their position, there is no wrong way to hold a debate in your class – and you can try out a few different formats to see what works best.

After the debates, it’s a great idea to debrief. This is a good time to bring in some key vocabulary and reinforce how to write an argumentative essay. For example, you can look over some of the evidence presented and ask students to rate the “strength” of the argument. You can also brainstorm a counterargument together.

argument writing middle school

How to Introduce Argumentative Writing: The Flash Draft

After students debate, they move on to the flash draft. A flash draft is essentially a giant brain dump. Students do not have to worry about spelling, grammar, organization, or even structure. They will simply be taking their thoughts from the debate and getting them down on paper. 

One benefit to the flash draft is it removes the barrier of intimidation for a lot of students. For many kids, the actual work of starting to write can be daunting. A flash draft removes that intimidation of perfection and just requires something to be on the page. Again, the flash draft portion can be completely tailored to best suit your students and classroom. You can set a timer for a specific amount of time, you can provide students with an outline or guiding questions, or you can give them sentence stems to start. 

If you have access to technology in your classroom, you can even let students verbalize their flash draft and use transcription technology to get it on paper. 

Expanding Knowledge of Argumentative Writing

By now, you might be wondering when you’ll actually dive deeper into how to write an argumentative essay. That will start with a mini-lesson. These mini-lessons should cover the key parts of argumentative essays, like how to take a stance, ways to support your position, how to transition between thoughts, and even how to craft a counterargument. 

You could have a mini-lesson before each flash draft to focus on a particular skill, or you can hold the mini-lesson after the flash draft and let students focus on that skill during revisions. During mini-lessons, I highly suggest using mentor texts, guided examples, or other reference materials. When it comes to writing, many students need to see the process in action, so modeling and having a place for them to reference will be super key to their success.

argument writing middle school

Argumentative Writing Unit for Middle School 

Want support putting together your argumentative essay unit? My done-for-you Argumentative Writing Unit scaffolds how to write an argumentative essay for you and your students.

The unit includes 23 full lesson plans, slide presentations, notebook pages for students, teacher keys and examples, student references pages, and more for a well-rounded unit.

Plus, this unit goes through the exact process I talked about in the blog, using debate, flash drafts, and mini-lessons to scaffold students through the writing process.

argument writing middle school

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Strategies for Teaching Argument Writing

Three simple ways a ninth-grade teacher scaffolds argument writing for students.

A class of students writing at their desks

My ninth-grade students love to argue. They enjoy pushing back against authority, sharing their opinions, and having those opinions validated by their classmates. That’s no surprise—it’s invigorating to feel right about a hot-button topic. But through the teaching of argument writing, we can show our students that argumentation isn’t just about convincing someone of your viewpoint—it’s also about researching the issues, gathering evidence, and forming a nuanced claim.

Argument writing is a crucial skill for the real world, no matter what future lies ahead of a student. The Common Core State Standards support the teaching of argument writing , and students in the elementary grades on up who know how to support their claims with evidence will reap long-term benefits.

Argument Writing as Bell Work

One of the ways I teach argument writing is by making it part of our bell work routine, done in addition to our core lessons. This is a useful way to implement argument writing in class because there’s no need to carve out two weeks for a new unit.

Instead, at the bell, I provide students with an article to read that is relevant to our coursework and that expresses a clear opinion on an issue. They fill out the first section of the graphic organizer I’ve included here, which helps them identify the claim, supporting evidence, and hypothetical counterclaims. After three days of reading nonfiction texts from different perspectives, their graphic organizer becomes a useful resource for forming their own claim with supporting evidence in a short piece of writing.

The graphic organizer I use was inspired by the resources on argument writing provided by the National Writing Project through the College, Career, and Community Writers Program . They have resources for elementary and secondary teachers interested in argument writing instruction. I also like to check Kelly Gallagher’s Article of the Week for current nonfiction texts.

Moves of Argument Writing

Another way to practice argument writing is by teaching students to be aware of, and to use effectively, common moves found in argument writing. Joseph Harris’s book Rewriting: How to Do Things With Texts outlines some common moves:

  • Illustrating: Using examples, usually from other sources, to explain your point.
  • Authorizing: Calling upon the credibility of a source to help support to your argument.
  • Borrowing: Using the terminology of other writers to help add legitimacy to a point.
  • Extending: Adding commentary to the conversation on the issue at hand.
  • Countering: Addressing opposing arguments with valid solutions.

Teaching students to identify these moves in writing is an effective way to improve reading comprehension, especially of nonfiction articles. Furthermore, teaching students to use these moves in their own writing will make for more intentional choices and, subsequently, better writing.

Argument Writing With Templates

Students who purposefully read arguments with the mindset of a writer can be taught to recognize the moves identified above and more. Knowing how to identify when and why authors use certain sentence starters, transitions, and other syntactic strategies can help students learn how to make their own point effectively.

To supplement our students’ knowledge of these syntactic strategies, Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein recommend writing with templates in their book They Say, I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing . Graff and Birkenstein provide copious templates for students to use in specific argument writing scenarios. For example, consider these phrases that appear commonly in argument writing:

  • On the one hand...
  • On the other hand...
  • I agree that...
  • This is not to say that...

If you’re wary of having your students write using a template, I once felt the same way. But when I had my students purposefully integrate these words into their writing, I saw a significant improvement in their argument writing. Providing students with phrases like these helps them organize their thoughts in a way that better suits the format of their argument writing.

When we teach students the language of arguing, we are helping them gain traction in the real world. Throughout their lives, they’ll need to convince others to support their goals. In this way, argument writing is one of the most important tools we can teach our students to use.

A Step-by-Step Plan for Teaching Argumentative Writing

February 7, 2016

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For seven years, I was a writing teacher.  Yes, I was certified to teach the full spectrum of English language arts—literature, grammar and usage, speech, drama, and so on—but my absolute favorite, the thing I loved doing the most, was teaching students how to write.

Most of the material on this site is directed at all teachers. I look for and put together resources that would appeal to any teacher who teaches any subject. That practice will continue for as long as I keep this up. But over the next year or so, I plan to also share more of what I know about teaching students to write. Although I know many of the people who visit here are not strictly English language arts teachers, my hope is that these posts will provide tons of value to those who are, and to those who teach all subjects, including writing.

So let’s begin with argumentative writing, or persuasive writing, as many of us used to call it. This overview will be most helpful to those who are new to teaching writing, or teachers who have not gotten good results with the approach you have taken up to now. I don’t claim to have the definitive answer on how to do this, but the method I share here worked pretty well for me, and it might do the same for you. If you are an experienced English language arts teacher, you probably already have a system for teaching this skill that you like. Then again, I’m always interested in how other people do the things I can already do; maybe you’re curious like that, too.

Before I start, I should note that what I describe in this post is a fairly formulaic style of essay writing. It’s not exactly the 5-paragraph essay, but it definitely builds on that model. I strongly believe students should be shown how to move past those kinds of structures into a style of writing that’s more natural and fitting to the task and audience, but I also think they should start with something that’s pretty clearly organized.

So here’s how I teach argumentative essay writing.

Step 1: Watch How It’s Done

One of the most effective ways to improve student writing is to show them mentor texts, examples of excellent writing within the genre students are about to attempt themselves. Ideally, this writing would come from real publications and not be fabricated by me in order to embody the form I’m looking for. Although most experts on writing instruction employ some kind of mentor text study, the person I learned it from best was Katie Wood Ray in her book Study Driven (links to the book: | Amazon ).

Since I want the writing to be high quality and the subject matter to be high interest, I might choose pieces like Jessica Lahey’s Students Who Lose Recess Are the Ones Who Need it Most  and David Bulley’s School Suspensions Don’t Work .

I would have students read these texts, compare them, and find places where the authors used evidence to back up their assertions. I would ask students which author they feel did the best job of influencing the reader, and what suggestions they would make to improve the writing. I would also ask them to notice things like stories, facts and statistics, and other things the authors use to develop their ideas. Later, as students work on their own pieces, I would likely return to these pieces to show students how to execute certain writing moves.

Step 2: Informal Argument, Freestyle

Although many students might need more practice in writing an effective argument, many of them are excellent at arguing in person. To help them make this connection, I would have them do some informal debate on easy, high-interest topics. An activity like This or That (one of the classroom icebreakers I talked about last year) would be perfect here: I read a statement like “Women have the same opportunities in life as men.” Students who agree with the statement move to one side of the room, and those who disagree move to the other side. Then they take turns explaining why they are standing in that position. This ultimately looks a little bit like a debate, as students from either side tend to defend their position to those on the other side.

Every class of students I have ever had, from middle school to college, has loved loved LOVED this activity. It’s so simple, it gets them out of their seats, and for a unit on argument, it’s an easy way to get them thinking about how the art of argument is something they practice all the time.

Step 3: Informal Argument, Not so Freestyle

Once students have argued without the support of any kind of research or text, I would set up a second debate; this time with more structure and more time to research ahead of time. I would pose a different question, supply students with a few articles that would provide ammunition for either side, then give them time to read the articles and find the evidence they need.

Next, we’d have a Philosophical Chairs debate (learn about this in my  discussion strategies post), which is very similar to “This or That,” except students use textual evidence to back up their points, and there are a few more rules. Here they are still doing verbal argument, but the experience should make them more likely to appreciate the value of evidence when trying to persuade.

Before leaving this step, I would have students transfer their thoughts from the discussion they just had into something that looks like the opening paragraph of a written argument: A statement of their point of view, plus three reasons to support that point of view. This lays the groundwork for what’s to come.

Step 4: Introduction of the Performance Assessment

Next I would show students their major assignment, the performance assessment that they will work on for the next few weeks. What does this look like? It’s generally a written prompt that describes the task, plus the rubric I will use to score their final product.

Anytime I give students a major writing assignment, I let them see these documents very early on. In my experience, I’ve found that students appreciate having a clear picture of what’s expected of them when beginning a writing assignment. At this time, I also show them a model of a piece of writing that meets the requirements of the assignment. Unlike the mentor texts we read on day 1, this sample would be something teacher-created (or an excellent student model from a previous year) to fit the parameters of the assignment.

Step 5: Building the Base

Before letting students loose to start working on their essays, I make sure they have a solid plan for writing. I would devote at least one more class period to having students consider their topic for the essay, drafting a thesis statement, and planning the main points of their essay in a graphic organizer.

I would also begin writing my own essay on a different topic. This has been my number one strategy for teaching students how to become better writers. Using a document camera or overhead projector, I start from scratch, thinking out loud and scribbling down my thoughts as they come. When students see how messy the process can be, it becomes less intimidating for them. They begin to understand how to take the thoughts that are stirring around in your head and turn them into something that makes sense in writing.

For some students, this early stage might take a few more days, and that’s fine: I would rather spend more time getting it right at the pre-writing stage than have a student go off willy-nilly, draft a full essay, then realize they need to start over. Meanwhile, students who have their plans in order will be allowed to move on to the next step.

Step 6: Writer’s Workshop

The next seven to ten days would be spent in writer’s workshop, where I would start class with a mini-lesson about a particular aspect of craft. I would show them how to choose credible, relevant evidence, how to skillfully weave evidence into an argument, how to consider the needs of an audience, and how to correctly cite sources. Once each mini-lesson was done, I would then give students the rest of the period to work independently on their writing. During this time, I would move around the room, helping students solve problems and offering feedback on whatever part of the piece they are working on. I would encourage students to share their work with peers and give feedback at all stages of the writing process.

If I wanted to make the unit even more student-centered, I would provide the mini-lessons in written or video format and let students work through them at their own pace, without me teaching them. (To learn more about this approach, read this post on self-paced learning ).

As students begin to complete their essays, the mini-lessons would focus more on matters of style and usage. I almost never bother talking about spelling, punctuation, grammar, or usage until students have a draft that’s pretty close to done. Only then do we start fixing the smaller mistakes.

Step 7: Final Assessment

Finally, the finished essays are handed in for a grade. At this point, I’m pretty familiar with each student’s writing and have given them verbal (and sometimes written) feedback throughout the unit; that’s why I make the writer’s workshop phase last so long. I don’t really want students handing in work until they are pretty sure they’ve met the requirements to the best of their ability. I also don’t necessarily see “final copies” as final; if a student hands in an essay that’s still really lacking in some key areas, I will arrange to have that student revise it and resubmit for a higher grade.

So that’s it. If you haven’t had a lot of success teaching students to write persuasively, and if the approach outlined here is different from what you’ve been doing, give it a try. And let’s keep talking: Use the comments section below to share your techniques or ask questions about the most effective ways to teach argumentative writing.

Want this unit ready-made?

If you’re a writing teacher in grades 7-12 and you’d like a classroom-ready unit like the one described above, including mini-lessons, sample essays, and a library of high-interest online articles to use for gathering evidence, take a look at my Argumentative Writing unit. Just click on the image below and you’ll be taken to a page where you can read more and see a detailed preview of what’s included.

What to Read Next

argument writing middle school

Categories: Instruction , Podcast

Tags: English language arts , Grades 6-8 , Grades 9-12 , teaching strategies


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This is useful information. In teaching persuasive speaking/writing I have found Monroe’s Motivated sequence very useful and productive. It is a classic model that immediately gives a solid structure for students.

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Thanks for the recommendation, Bill. I will have to look into that! Here’s a link to more information on Monroe’s Motivated sequence, for anyone who wants to learn more:

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What other sites do you recommend for teacher use on providing effective organizational structure in argumentative writing? As a K-12 Curriculum Director, I find that when teachers connect with and understand the organizational structure, they are more effective in their teaching/delivery.

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Hey Jessica, in addition to the steps outlined here, you might want to check out Jenn’s post on graphic organizers . Graphic organizers are a great tool that you can use in any phase of a lesson. Using them as a prewrite can help students visualize the argument and organize their thoughts. There’s a link in that post to the Graphic Organizer Multi-Pack that Jenn has for sale on her Teachers Pay Teachers site, which includes two versions of a graphic organizer you can use specifically for argument organization. Otherwise, if there’s something else you had in mind, let us know and we can help you out. Thanks!

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Dear Jennifer Gonzalez,

You are generous with your gift of lighting the path… I hardly ever write (never before) , but I must today… THANK YOU… THANK YOU….THANK YOU… mostly for reading your great teachings… So your valuable teachings will even be easy to benefit all the smart people facing challenge of having to deal with adhd…

I am not a teacher… but forever a student…someone who studied English as 2nd language, with a science degree & adhd…

You truly are making a difference in our World…

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Thanks so much, Rita! I know Jenn will appreciate this — I’ll be sure to share with her!

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Love it! Its simple and very fruitful . I can feel how dedicated you are! Thanks alot Jen

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Great examples of resources that students would find interesting. I enjoyed reading your article. I’ve bookmarked it for future reference. Thanks!

You’re welcome, Sheryl!

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Students need to be writing all the time about a broad range of topics, but I love the focus here on argumentative writing because if you choose the model writing texts correctly, you can really get the kids engaged in the process and in how they can use this writing in real-world situations!

I agree, Laura. I think an occasional tight focus on one genre can help them grow leaps and bounds in the skills specific to that type of writing. Later, in less structured situations, they can then call on those skills when that kind of thinking is required.

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This is really helpful! I used it today and put the recess article in a Google Doc and had the kids identify anecdotal, statistic, and ‘other’ types of evidence by highlighting them in three different colors. It worked well! Tomorrow we’ll discuss which of the different types of evidence are most convincing and why.

Love that, Shanna! Thanks for sharing that extra layer.

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Greetings Ms. Gonzales. I was wondering if you had any ideas to help students develop the cons/against side of their argument within their writing? Please advise. Thanks.

Hi Michael,

Considering audience and counterarguments are an important part of the argumentative writing process. In the Argumentative Writing unit Jenn includes specific mini-lessons that teach kids how, when and where to include opposing views in their writing. In the meantime, here’s a video that might also be helpful.

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Hi, Thank you very much for sharing your ideas. I want to share also the ideas in the article ‘Already Experts: Showing Students How Much They Know about Writing and Reading Arguments’ by Angela Petit and Edna Soto…they explain a really nice activity to introduce argumentative writing. I have applied it many times and my students not only love it but also display a very clear pattern as the results in the activity are quite similar every time. I hope you like it.

Lorena Perez

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I’d like to thank you you for this excellence resource. It’s a wonderful addition to the informative content that Jennifer has shared.

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What do you use for a prize?

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I looked at the unit, and it looks and sounds great. The description says there are 4 topics. Can you tell me the topics before I purchase? We start argument in 5th grade, and I want to make sure the topics are different from those they’ve done the last 5 years before purchasing. Thanks!

Hi Carrie! If you go to the product page on TPT and open up the preview, you’ll see the four topics on the 4th page in more detail, but here they are: Social Networking in School (should social media sites be blocked in school?), Cell Phones in Class, Junk Food in School, and Single-Sex Education (i.e., genders separated). Does that help?

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I teach 6th grade English in a single gendered (all-girls) class. We just finished an argument piece but I will definitely cycle back your ideas when we revisit argumentation. Thanks for the fabulous resources!

Glad to hear it, Madelyn!

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I’m not a writing teacher and honestly haven’t been taught on how to teach writing. I’m a history teacher. I read this and found it helpful but have questions. First I noticed that amount of time dedicated to the task in terms of days. My questions are how long is a class period? I have my students for about 45 minutes. I also saw you mentioned in the part about self-paced learning that mini-lessons could be written or video format. I love these ideas. Any thoughts on how to do this with almost no technology in the room and low readers to non-readers? I’m trying to figure out how to balance teaching a content class while also teaching the common core skills. Thank you for any consideration to my questions.

Hey Jones, To me, a class period is anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour; definitely varies from school to school. As for the question about doing self-paced with very little tech? I think binders with written mini-lessons could work well, as well as a single computer station or tablet hooked up to a class set of videos. Obviously you’d need to be more diligent about rotating students in and out of these stations, but it’s an option at least. You might also give students access to the videos through computers in other locations at school (like the library) and give them passes to watch. The thing about self-paced learning, as you may have seen in the self-paced post , is that if students need extra teacher support (as you might find with low readers or non-readers), they would spend more one-on-one time with the teacher, while the higher-level students would be permitted to move more quickly on their own. Does that help?

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My primary goal for next semester is to increase academic discussion and make connections from discussion to writing, so I love how you launch this unit with lessons like Philosophical Chairs. I am curious, however, what is the benefit of the informal argument before the not-so-informal argument? My students often struggle to listen to one another, so I’m wondering if I should start with the more formal, structured version. Or, am I overthinking the management? Thanks so much for input.

Yikes! So sorry your question slipped through, and we’re just now getting to this, Sarah. The main advantage of having kids first engage in informal debate is that it helps them get into an argumentative mindset and begin to appreciate the value of using research to support their claims. If you’ve purchased the unit, you can read more about this in the Overview.

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My 6th graders are progressing through their argumentative essay. I’m providing mini lessons along the way that target where most students are in their essay. Your suggestions will be used. I’ve chosen to keep most writing in class and was happy to read that you scheduled a lot of class time for the writing. Students need to feel comfortable knowing that writing is a craft and needs to evolve over time. I think more will get done in class and it is especially important for the struggling writers to have peers and the teacher around while they write. Something that I had students do that they liked was to have them sit in like-topic groups to create a shared document where they curated information that MIGHT be helpful along the way. By the end of the essay, all will use a fantastic add-on called GradeProof which helps to eliminate most of the basic and silly errors that 6th graders make.

Debbi! I LOVE the idea of a shared, curated collection of resources! That is absolutely fantastic! Are you using a Google Doc for this? Other curation tools you might consider are Padlet and Elink .

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thanks v much for all this information

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Love this! What do you take as grades in the meantime? Throughout this 2 week stretch?

Ideally, you wouldn’t need to take grades at all, waiting until the final paper is done to give one grade. If your school requires more frequent grades, you could assign small point values for getting the incremental steps done: So in Step 3 (when students have to write a paragraph stating their point of view) you could take points for that. During the writer’s workshop phase, you might give points for completion of a rough draft and participation points for peer review (ideally, they’d get some kind of feedback on the quality of feedback they give to one another). Another option would be to just give a small, holistic grade for each week based on the overall integrity of their work–are they staying on task? Making small improvements to their writing each day? Taking advantage of the resources? If students are working diligently through the process, that should be enough. But again, the assessment (grades) should really come from that final written product, and if everyone is doing what they’re supposed to be doing during the workshop phase, most students should have pretty good scores on that final product. Does that help?

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Awesome Step 2! Teaching mostly teenagers in Northern Australia I find students’ verbal arguments are much more finely honed than their written work.

To assist with “building the base” I’ve always found sentence starters an essential entry point for struggling students. We have started using the ‘PEARL’ method for analytical and persuasive writing.

If it helps here a free scaffold for the method:

Thanks again,

Thank you for sharing this additional resource! It’s excellent!

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I’ve been scouring the interwebs looking for some real advice on how I can help my struggling 9th grader write better. I can write. Since it comes naturally for me, I have a hard time breaking it down into such tiny steps that he can begin to feel less overwhelmed. I LOVE the pre-writing ideas here. My son is a fabulous arguer. I need to help him use those powers for the good of his writing skills. Do you have a suggestion on what I else I can be using for my homeschooled son? Or what you may have that could work well for home use?

Hi Melinda,

You might be interested in taking a look at Jenn’s Argumentative Writing unit which she mentions at the end of the post . Hope this helps!

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Mam it would be good if you could post some steps of different writing and some samples as well so it can be useful for the students.

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Hi Aalia! My name is Holly, and I work as a Customer Experience Manager for Cult of Pedagogy. It just so happens that in the near future, Jenn is going to release a narrative writing unit, so keep an eye out for that! As far as samples, the argumentative writing unit has example essays included, and I’m sure the narrative unit will as well. But, to find the examples, you have to purchase the unit from Teachers Pay Teachers.

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I just want to say that this helped me tremendously in teaching argument to 8th Graders this past school year, which is a huge concept on their state testing in April. I felt like they were very prepared, and they really enjoyed the verbal part of it, too! I have already implemented these methods into my unit plan for argument for my 11th grade class this year. Thank you so much for posting all of these things! : )

-Josee` Vaughn

I’m so glad to hear it, Josee!!

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Love your blog! It is one of the best ones.

I am petrified of writing. I am teaching grade 8 in September and would love some suggestions as I start planning for the year. Thanks!

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This is genius! I can’t wait to get started tomorrow teaching argument. It’s always something that I have struggled with, and I’ve been teaching for 18 years. I have a class of 31 students, mostly boys, several with IEPs. The self-paced mini-lessons will help tremendously.

So glad you liked it, Britney!

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My students will begin the journey into persuasion and argument next week and your post cemented much of my thinking around how to facilitate the journey towards effective, enthusiastic argumentative writing.

I use your rubrics often to outline task expectations for my students and the feedback from them is how useful breaking every task into steps can be as they are learning new concepts.

Additionally, we made the leap into blogging as a grade at It feels much like trying to learn to change a tire while the car is speeding down the highway. Reading your posts over the past years was a factor in embracing the authentic audience. Thank You! Trish

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I love reading and listening to your always helpful tips, tricks, and advice! I was wondering if you had any thoughts on creative and engaging ways to have students share their persuasive writing? My 6th students are just finishing up our persuasive writing where we read the book “Oh, Rats” by Albert Marrin and used the information gathered to craft a persuasive piece to either eliminate or protect rats and other than just reading their pieces to one another, I have been trying to think of more creative ways to share. I thought about having a debate but (un)fortunately all my kids are so sweet and are on the same side of the argument – Protect the Rats! Any ideas?

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Hi Kiley! Thanks for the positive feedback! So glad to hear that you are finding value in Cult of Pedagogy! Here are a few suggestions that you may be interested in trying with your students:

-A gallery walk: Students could do this virtually if their writing is stored online or hard copies of their writing. Here are some different ways that you could use gallery walks: Enliven Class Discussions With Gallery Walks

-Students could give each other feedback using a tech tool like Flipgrid . You could assign students to small groups or give them accountability partners. In Flipgrid, you could have students sharing back and forth about their writing and their opinions.

I hope this helps!

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I love the idea of mentor texts for all of these reading and writing concepts. I saw a great one on Twitter with one text and it demonstrated 5-6 reasons to start a paragraph, all in two pages of a book! Is there a location that would have suggestions/lists of mentor texts for these areas? Paragraphs, sentences, voice, persuasive writing, expository writing, etc. It seems like we could share this info, save each other some work, and curate a great collection of mentor text for English Language Arts teachers. Maybe it already exists?

Hi Maureen,

Here are some great resources that you may find helpful:

Craft Lessons Second Edition: Teaching Writing K-8 Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts and Mentor Texts, 2nd edition: Teaching Writing Through Children’s Literature, K-6

Thanks so much! I’ll definitely look into these.

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I love the steps for planning an argumentative essay writing. When we return from Christmas break, we will begin starting a unit on argumentative writing. I will definitely use the steps. I especially love Step #2. As a 6th grade teacher, my students love to argue. This would set the stage of what argumentative essay involves. Thanks for sharing.

So glad to hear this, Gwen. Thanks for letting us know!

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Great orientation, dear Jennifer. The step-by-step carefully planned pedagogical perspectives have surely added in the information repository of many.

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Hi Jennifer,

I hope you are well. I apologise for the incorrect spelling in the previous post.

Thank you very much for introducing this effective instruction for teaching argumentative writing. I am the first year PhD student at Newcastle University, UK. My PhD research project aims to investigate teaching argumentative writing to Chinese university students. I am interested in the Argumentative Writing unit you have designed and would like to buy it. I would like to see the preview of this book before deciding to purchase it. I clicked on the image BUT the font of the preview is so small and cannot see the content clearly. I am wondering whether it could be possible for you to email me a detailed preview of what’s included. I would highly appreciate if you could help me with this.

Thank you very much in advance. Looking forward to your reply.

Take care and all the very best, Chang

Hi Chang! Jenn’s Argumentative Writing Unit is actually a teaching unit geared toward grades 7-12 with lessons, activities, etc. If you click here click here to view the actual product, you can click on the green ‘View Preview’ button to see a pretty detailed preview of what’s offered. Once you open the preview, there is the option to zoom in so you can see what the actual pages of the unit are like. I hope this helps!

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Great Content!

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Another teacher showed me one of your posts, and now I’ve read a dozen of them. With teaching students to argue, have you ever used the “What’s going on in this picture?” I used it last year and thought it was a non-threatening way to introduce learners to using evidence to be persuasive since there was no text.

I used to do something like this to help kids learn how to make inferences. Hadn’t thought of it from a persuasive standpoint. Interesting.

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this is a very interesting topic, thanks!

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Hi! I’m a teacher too! I was looking for inspiration and I found your article and thought you might find this online free tool interesting that helps make all students participate meaningfully and engage in a topic.

This tool is great for student collaboration and to teach argumentative writing in an innovative way. I hope this helps!

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argument writing middle school

Mentor Texts for Teaching Argument Writing

admin 01.29.18 Booklists Reading Writing

As a follow-up to our November 2017 #NCTEchat, Using Mentor Texts , we asked our social media community to share some of their favorite mentor texts with us. In the first part of this series, we’ve compiled educators’ favorite mentor texts for teaching argument writing. To see the original messages this list is based on, click here .

Did we miss one? Please let us know on Twitter!

argument writing middle school

Should There Be Zoos?: A Persuasive Text by Tony Stead with Judy Ballester and her fourth-grade class Examines the opposing viewpoints of a fourth-grade class on whether zoos are helpful or harmful to animals; written in persuasive language.

Hey, Little Ant by Phillip M. and  Hannah Hoose , illustrated by Debbie Tilley What would you do if the ant you were about to step on looked up and started talking? Would you stop and listen?

A Pig Parade Is a Terrible Idea by Michael Ian Black, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes Could anything possibly be more fun than a pig parade!? You wouldn’t think so. But you’d be wrong. A pig parade is a terrible idea.

I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman Orloff, illustrated by David Catrow Alex just has to convince his mom to let him have an iguana, so he puts his arguments in writing.

argument writing middle school

Have I Got a Book for You! by Mélanie Watt Mr. Al Foxword is one persistent salesman! He will do just about anything to sell you this book. Al tries every trick of the trade.

Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing by Judi Barrett, illustrated by Ron Barrett This well-loved book by Judi and Ron Barrett shows the very youngest why animals’ clothing is perfect . . . just as it is.

Stella Writes an Opinion by Janiel Wagstaff, illustrated by Dana Regan Meet Stella. She has lots of opinions. When Ms. M. tells the class they get to write an opinion, Stella gets excited. But how will she choose what to write about?

I Wanna New Room by Karen Kaufman Orloff, illustrated by David Catrow Writing letters to his mom convinced her to let him get his pet iguana, so Alex puts pencil to paper again, this time determined to get his own room.

argument writing middle school

They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel In this celebration of observation, curiosity, and imagination, Brendan Wenzel shows us the many views of one cat and the ways perspective shapes what we see. When you see a cat, what do you see?

Dear Mr. Blueberry by Simon James It’s vacation time, so Emily has to write to her teacher for help when she discovers a blue whale living in her pond. Mr. Blueberry answers that she must be mistaken, because whales live in the ocean, not in ponds.

Red Is Best by Kathy Stinson Young Kelly’s mom doesn’t understand about red. Sure, the brown mittens are warmer, but the red mitts make better snowballs. No doubt about it, red is best.

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers Poor Duncan just wants to color. But when he opens his box of crayons, he finds only letters, all saying the same thing: We quit! The supporting details are great to get students to think and write about the why instead of just writing a list of demands.

argument writing middle school

One Word from Sophia by Jim Averbeck, illustrated by Yasmeen Ismail Sophia tries varied techniques to get the giraffe she wants more than anything in this playfully illustrated story about the nuances of negotiation.

She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton, illustrated by Alexandra Boiger In this book, Chelsea Clinton celebrates thirteen American women who helped shape our country through their tenacity, sometimes through speaking out, sometimes by staying seated, sometimes by captivating an audience.

Thank You, Sarah: The Woman Who Saved Thanksgiving  by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Matt Faulkner Way back when “skirts were long and hats were tall,” Americans were forgetting Thanksgiving, and nobody seemed to care! Thankfully, Sarah Hale appeared.

Earrings by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Nola Langner Malone She wants them. She needs them. She loves them.  Earrings!  What won’t a girl do to finally get her ears pierced?

Upper Grades

argument writing middle school

This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women , edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman Based on the NPR series of the same name,  This I Believe  features eighty Americans―from the famous to the unknown―completing the thought that the book’s title begins.

Everything’s an Argument by Andrea A. Lunsford and John J. Ruszkiewicz This bestselling text shows students how to analyze all kinds of arguments—not just essays and editorials, but clothes, cars, ads, and website designs—and then how to use what they learn to write their own effective arguments. Making a Visual Argument: Claire Ironside’s “Apples to Oranges” was specifically mentioned.

Dear Mr. President: Letters to the Oval Office from the Files of the National Archives by Dwight Young and Brian Williams Drawn from the extensive holdings of the National Archives, these carefully chosen letters remind us that ours is a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” which entitles us to make our views known to our leaders.

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela The autobiography of Nelson Mandela, one of the great moral and political leaders of our time.

Good speeches are exemplars of argument, evidence, genre blending, word choice, and more.

“Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!” by Patrick Henry, delivered March 23, 1775, St. John’s Church, Richmond, Virginia

“ Ain’t I a Woman? ” by Sojourner Truth, delivered 1851, Women’s Convention, Akron, Ohio

“ The Destructive Male ” by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, delivered 1868, Women’s Suffrage Convention, Washington, D.C.

“ Toward a More Perfect Union ” by Barack Obama, delivered March 18, 2008, The Constitution Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Any speech by Barack Obama, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King Jr., or Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Newsela Current events stories tailor-made for classroom use. Indexed by broad theme, stories are student-friendly and can be accessed in different formats by reading level.

The New York Times Upfront Magazine by Scholastic Upfront  gets teens talking about today’s most important issues with current events for grades 9–12.

“ The Joy of Reading and Writing: Superman and Me ” by Sherman Alexie, Los Angeles Times, April 19, 1998

Atticus Finch’s closing argument in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Declaration of Independence

Abigail Adams’s letters to John Adams

Barack Obama’s Town Hall response where he compares gun control to auto safety

Book descriptions are taken from the Goodreads website.

argument writing middle school

  • Apr 16, 2020

Argumentative Writing: Debates in Middle School

Updated: Apr 29, 2020

argument writing middle school

Almost all standards across the country call for students to do some sort of argumentative writing and analysis . I see lots of teachers ask how to get their students to write argumentative essays. Well, my students don't. Throughout the school year my students write a research essay and a literary analysis put them through another essay is torture for me and them. So, instead, we do debates! Read about how I approach debating with my 6th graders.


My school district has a high school debate team that takes it very seriously. My school is lucky enough to host some of the debates right in my own classroom! (It's a very small district). I always ask the teachers who run the debate club if my students can watch. It's a great experience for them to see students who take debate very seriously, even though the topic may be way over their heads!

They simply observe these debates and we don't get into them a whole lot until we start the unit (which is usually much later than when they see the debates). We discuss what they noticed. One of the things they notice is how prepared the high schoolers are when they are in front of the class debating. This is a great segway into to the unit as they will be doing research and trying to be as formal as possible!

I also like to do some fun interactive activities like speed debating . I give them very basic topics to practice debating for a few minutes then switch off to debate with the next person. (Unfortunately, I couldn't do these for this current school year due to COV-ID closures).

argument writing middle school

Eventually, we dive into our digital notebook . We kick it off with observations of two debates I found on YouTube. I don't expect them to watch the entire debates. We discuss key terms as an introduction and then delve into those later.

Debate Basics

I will not call myself an expert at debates in the slightest, so I am happy I teach 6th grade to just give them the bare bones. I did some research of my own and spoke with the 8th grade teacher in my building to see what's typically expected in the upper grades and I scaled my information down to meet my 6th graders' needs.

We begin with pro/con article s from Newsela . These are a lifesaver! They are short and sweet and I have the students analyze the difference between the two "sides". Ultimately, they choose a side and briefly support it with text detail from the article.

They continue to use these types of articles to practice crafting claims. Normally, in an argumentative essay, this would be their thesis. I help them use debate terminology of affirmative and negative. I have them focus on three major points to craft their claims.

Next up is ethos, logos, and pathos . They do struggle with this because they've had NO exposure to this before they get to me. I like to use commercials to help with these concepts. I break down each one as a different lesson each day. I have them return to a pro/con article already read and look for evidence that could fit into each category. Following up to that, I have them create their own ethos, logos, and pathos.

argument writing middle school

Counterclaims and refutations are next and a cornerstone of debate. Students differentiate between strong and weak counterclaims and learn how to use specific language to refute.

Time to prep for the debate. I give the students a Google Form early in the unit to choose the topic they want. I limit their choices to four topics I already chose because I provide them with the research articles. You may want to go a different direction and let them choose their own topics and do their own kiddos are not quite ready for that. Once they choose their topics, I try very hard to put them in the groups they want. They also choose what side they'd prefer. Unfortunately, they don't always get the side they want, but the research I provide gives them plenty to support each side.

argument writing middle school

There are about 4 students per group. Each group is a different side of a topic. So, one group of 4 is the affirmative to the question and the other group of 4 is the negative to the question.

The groups then spend time researching in the provided articles. Within their gathering of evidence, I have them get information for BOTH sides and try to match up evidence against each other. The goal being that when they do debate, they have researched the evidence from the other side, too, so they can refute it. My kids do struggle with this a bit, so I don't expect's a tough concept to wrap their heads around.

They also spend time separating out the evidence, this way, students aren't overwhelmed and have specific evidence to focus on when they present. I also have them go back to see if they can add any logos, ethos, and pathos. They write opening and closing statements and prepare a notecard to have with them when they research.

argument writing middle school

I set up the debate with eight desks in front of the classroom facing the rest of the class. Each group goes to a side to debate. It is a little less formal than other debates, as I don't really time it; I just use my discretion.

argument writing middle school

They begin with the opening act. Then, the other side provides their first argument. The following group can rebut by using the steps of refutation learning earlier by raising their hand. I encourage them to use their evidence to rebut and to focus on what the other group said (we practice a bunch before, too).

The rest of the class fills out an assessment based on the debates they watched and "grade" the presentations. Then, I grade them!

This year, I am attempting this all through Zoom. Stay tuned! I will update here once I get to students just started this unit last week. I may end up making smaller groups since I have less time with them and the plan is to hold the debates on Zoom.

Bottom Line

While many choose to do essays for the argumentative standards, I find debates to be more productive. This unit really works into Speaking and Listening standards, too and students, especially at this age, love to socialize so this is a great way to get them to do so! And since this is being done through distance learning this year, it's more important than ever!

Want this unit? Click below!

argument writing middle school

You can get a free lesson from this notebook here!


Want a custom bundle from me click below.

argument writing middle school

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argument writing middle school

Why Argument Writing Is Important in Middle School

By Leslie Skantz-Hodgson and Jamilla Jones

Is argumentative writing important for today’s middle school students to master?

This past summer we were among six educators who thought diving into the argument aspect of teaching academic writing was important enough to gather during the break and share thoughts on a close reading of They Say/I Say: The Moves that Matter in Academic Writing (W.W. Norton, 3 rd edition, 2014) by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein.

In addition to learning together, we also argued and debated together (a lot) about the strategies and beliefs reinforced in the text.

Looking inward and outward

We were a mixed group of teachers of disciplines — science, English language arts, humanities, special education — across the grade levels. Our inquiry work was supported by a grant from the National Writing Project.

Our common goal was to learn how to impress upon our students the value and importance of developing their arguments “not just by looking inward but…by listening carefully to what others are saying and engaging with other views.” (Birkenstein/Graff, p. xxvi)

This approach to critical thinking and academic writing is a practice emphasized in the Common Core State Standards for math and English Language Arts, as well as in the Next Generation Science Standards.

More important to us, argument strategies allow students to “stretch what they believe by putting it up against beliefs that differ, sometimes radically, from their own. In an increasingly diverse global society, this ability to engage with the ideas of others is especially crucial to democratic citizenship.” (Birkenstein/Graff, p. xxvi)

Placing ideas within a larger context helps students see how their ideas fit and where their ideas fit in the broad conversation.

A return to socialization and conversation

In the preface of the book, Birkenstein and Graff state that one of the central goals is to demystify academic writing by returning it to its fundamental roots in socialization and conversation. The book’s title — They Say/I Say — is a pointed reminder of argument strategies, and we interpret it as the idea of: “I’m going to pay attention to what they say, so I can formulate my thoughts or arguments and say what I need to say.”

Another reason we found this text refreshing is that while it attends to the requirements of the Common Core, it also attends to the needs of the writer. For example, the authors make the argument for using “first person” point of view in argumentative writing:

Although you may have been told the “I” encourages subjective, self-indulgent opinions rather than well -grounded arguments, we believe that texts using ”I” can be just as well supported–or just as self- indulgent–as those that don’t. (Graff/Birkenstein, p. 72)

As educators, we often tell our students not to use first person pronouns in their argumentative writing, as a way to keep a distance from the topic. But in order to argue, we have to take in and evaluate, and then perhaps refute, what the other side says. Of course, our personal beliefs and feelings then become a part of the argument. Jamilla, in particular, feels like this part of the book will help refine her teaching practice.

Practicing argument within our discussions

In the course of our book study, we employed various argumentative writing strategies and activities that we believe can be used in the classroom.

In our first gathering as an inquiry group, we used a protocol called The Final Word that had us sharing passages that resonated with us and telling why. This familiar tool generated the kind of discussion called for in the Common Core’s ELA speaking and listening standards.

The second meeting had us practicing the writing of a summary following the guidance in Chapter 2 of the book and applying the lessons of Chapter 3, “The Art of Quoting,” to an essay.

The third meeting found us sharing summaries of our assigned chapters in a jigsaw approach, identifying the rhetorical moves in our choice of essays from among those supplied at the end of the book. As a final “putting it all together” activity, we all shared a “Dear Confused” letter written to a student or colleague explaining the major takeaways from the whole book.

The book includes useful templates, which we regarded more as sentence starters than the traditional graphic organizer for a complete essay, but which were still very useful. These templates offer a scaffolded approach to argument for writers. For example, one is structured as: “A number of _________have recently suggested that ________.“ Another template reads “It has become common today to dismiss______.”

Grounding writing in fundamentals

The authors also address (and thereby model how to acknowledge and rebut a counterclaim) the worry that using templates could hinder individual voice and creativity. They argue, appropriately enough, with an analogy: just as a jazz musician must master the established form and rules of music before they depart on variations, so must a writer know the forms and rules of argument writing.

They also provide lists of verbs for expressing disagreement, agreement, making a claim, and more. While many of these academic words may be advanced for middle schoolers (the book is used mainly at colleges and high schools), the list could be adapted for middle school.

One of the hardest things to teach students when integrating argumentative writing in subject areas is to pay attention to the counterclaim, and as participants in the book group, we paid particular attention to the reasons why counterclaims are so important to students making claims in their argumentative papers.

Skills that move beyond the classroom

As a society we are constantly trying to navigate the often murky waters of media and social media, and our students are bombarded with the opinions of many voices – at an unprecedented level of intensity. Students often share their opinions on social media but rarely pay attention to the other side of the argument. This is a skill that has to be taught through discussion and academic writing. This text addresses those skills and can spill into the literary lives of young people outside of the school in meaningful ways.

This book uses strategies that force students to look outside of themselves and their claims and put their claims up against those whose claims are extremely different. In order to have an argument, you have to know what you disagree with and why.

As to the initial question we posed at the start of this piece — Is argumentative writing important in middle school? — we would argue, yes, it is.

Leslie Skantz-Hodgson has been an educator for almost 24 years. She is currently the curriculum coordinator and librarian at Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School in Northampton, MA, a Teacher Consultant for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, and an adjunct professor at Fitchburg State University.

Jamilla Jones is a longtime 8th grade ELA teacher and Literacy Specialist. She has spent most of her years teaching students in urban areas and regularly coaches her peers in areas of engagement and literacy. She now works with teachers in the areas of Social Justice at Duggan Middle School in Springfield, MA.

This article originally appeared MiddleWeb , an education blog “All About the Middle Grades,” on August 20, 2015. 

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45 Argumentative Writing Prompts for Middle School

As students make their way through school, the types of writing they do will change—as will the difficulty.

Writing persuasive or argumentative essays and letters is a great skill for students to learn, and a wonderful way to help guide them on proper research techniques so they can view more than one opinion and form their own conclusions.

Below, we’ve put together a list of writing prompts to help students tackle persuasive writing and dig deeper for an opinion.

Using These Prompts

This writing guide can be used as homework or in tandem with your ELA curriculum. The point is to get students to work on their nonfiction writing skills in a way that is fun and engaging.

Here are a few ways you can use the list below:

  • Use these prompts for students who finish work early and need something to do.
  • To choose a prompt, have students pick a number between 1 and 45.
  • Challenge your students to use one writing prompt every day for a full week.
  • Pick prompts that line up with what students are learning in other classes (like history or art).
  • Have each student pick a prompt for someone else in the class to use.

The Prompts

  • Do you think teachers should assign homework over the weekend? Explain.
  • Is America ready to have a woman president? Why or why not?
  • Should kids have chores? Explain.
  •  Should GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms) be allowed in our food?
  • Is life more challenging for your generation than your parents’ generation at your age? Explain.
  • Should gym class be required for all students?
  • Do you think your school treats boys and girls equally? Explain.
  • Do athletes and actors deserve to make more money than the average worker? Explain.
  • Do beauty pageants objectify the participants?
  • Should teachers accept late work? Explain.
  • Should cell phones be allowed in school? Why?
  • Do you think community college should be free? Explain.
  • Should schools have harsher punishments for bullies?
  • Does snail mail (handwritten cards or letters) still have value in the digital age?
  • Do you think parents should limit screen time for their children?
  • Should a student’s behavior be a factor in their overall grade in a class?
  • Explain your stance on alternative energy.
  • Do you think the media puts too much pressure on high school and college athletes?
  • At what age do you think kids should be allowed to use social media?
  • Do you think Native Americans have had justice for having their land stolen?
  • Should the US invest more money in the space program, or should that money be spent elsewhere?
  • Does society rely too heavily on technology?
  • Should single-use plastics be eliminated entirely?
  • Do you think students should be given letter grades, or should classes be graded as pass/fail?
  • Explain the benefits of learning a second language.
  • Does your school mascot represent your school well?
  • If your school mascot could be changed, what would you propose? Why?
  • Defend your position on recreational hunting.
  • Explain the benefits of going away to summer camp.
  • Do you think there is anything we can do about climate change, or is it already too late?
  • Explain why students should have more say in what they learn.
  • What do you think is the perfect pet?
  • Is online learning or in-person learning better? Why?
  • How has reality TV had an impact on real life?
  • At what age are you old enough to stay home alone?
  • Should children be required to attend church with their families? Explain your reasoning.
  • Do you think the dress code is harmful or helpful to daily school life?
  • Is it better to be liked or to be respected?
  • Should school start later for teenagers?
  • Should students be required to participate in a sport or extracurricular activity?
  • Is the glass half-empty or half-full? Explain.
  • Should the United States keep daylight savings time, or do away with it?
  • What is something every household should do to conserve energy?
  • Should beauty standards be more inclusive?
  • What is the greatest song of all time? Explain.

Looking For More Resources?

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Don’t hesitate to reach out if you are looking for something specific and can’t find it on our site. We love hearing all of your ideas!

argument writing middle school

9 Things to See in Moscow's Red Square

 Sir Francis Canker/Getty Images

In most cases, you'll be entering Red Square from the north, passing landmarks such as the Bolshoi Theatre and Duma parliament building as you make your way southward. Although you don't necessarily have to pass through the Voskresensky (or Resurrection in English) Gates in order to gain access to the square these days, they definitely provide a sense of arrival, to say nothing of the way their left arch frame's St. Basil's Cathedral if you look from just the right angle.

An interesting fact is that while a gate of some kind has stood here since the mid-16th century, the one you currently see wasn't built until 1994, having been destroyed in 1931 so that tanks could enter and exit Red Square during military parades.

St. Basil's Cathedral

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson 

Few sights are as iconic not only of Moscow and Red Square but indeed of Russia than St. Basil's Cathedral, whose colorful, onion-shaped domes are a symbol of the country around the world. Officially known as the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, this church has stood since 1561, which is quite miraculous when you consider all the turbulent history that has transpired since then.

Among other things, religion was severely prohibited during the Soviet period , which led some to believe that this emblem of the Russian Orthodox church might not withstand the tenure of the USSR. 

An interesting fact is that St. Basil's is the so-called "Kilometer Zero" of Russia; all of Moscow's main roads (which can take you anywhere in Russia) begin at the exits to Red Square. In this way, St. Basil's iconic status also has an extremely tangible element.

The Kremlin

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

When you think of The Kremlin, it's unlikely that positive images enter your mind. The fact that simply saying the word "Kremlin" is too vague a descriptor (most Russian cities have their own Kremlin complexes; you should say "Moscow Kremlin") notwithstanding, this misunderstood place is incredibly beautiful, even if you don't like the policy that comes out of it.

Senate Square

In spite of its name, which refers to the role the building that rises above the square played during Imperial Russia, Senate Square is actually home to Russia's presidential administration, currently helmed by Vladimir Putin. In order to see where Russia's legislature operates from, walk just outside Red Square to the Duma parliament building.

Dormition Cathedral

Dating back to the year 1479, the gold-domed Dormition Cathedral pays homage to an Orthodox religious feast that commemorates the death of the Virgin Mary . As is the case with St. Basil's, it is curious that such a conspicuously religious structure was able to survive through the Soviet period.

Armoury Chamber

Though it takes its name from the fact that it housed Russia's royal arsenal when it was built in the 16th century, the most notable resident of the Kremlin's Armoury Chamber today is the Russian Diamond Fund.

Notable Kremlin Towers

Robert Schrader

The interior of the Moscow Kremlin is more beautiful and inviting than you'd expect, but the walls and towers that rise around it better live up to the intimidation with which the complex is associated. 

Borovitskaya Tower

Named to commemorate the dense forest that once stood atop the mount where it's built, this tower is extremely picturesque. Built in the late 15th century, it's visible from most places in the square, and also as you walk along the Moskva River.

Nikolskaya Tower

Also built in the year 1491, this tower currently suffered destruction at the hands of Napoleon's army in the 19th century. What you see now is the result of an 1816 re-design and renovation, though artillery fire during the Russian Revolution also caused superficial damage to the tower, named to honor St. Nikolas of Mozhaysk , so it's difficult to know which elements of it are original.

Spasskaya Tower

Known in English as the "Savior's Tower," this iconic, star-topped tower is perhaps the best-known of all the Kremlin's towers. Built in 1491 like the other two towers on this list, it's certainly the most photographed. As a result of its proximity to St. Basil's, it often makes its way into tourists' pictures.

Mausoleum of Lenin

Just as it's strange to learn how many religious monuments survived through the Soviet period, it's a bit odd to think that Lenin's preserved body still sits in a mausoleum just beneath the walls of the Kremlin on Red Square, given the lack of consensus about the ultimate impact of his Revolution, even in Russia.

It's not guaranteed that you'll be able to see the body (which, believe it or not, seems to be improving with age ) when you go, and if you do you will likely have to wait in line, but even strolling past the outside of the Lenin Mausoleum, flanked by stone-faced guards that almost look like statues, illuminates the gravity of his body still being here.

GUM Shopping Center

You might cringe, at least initially, when you realize that one of the most iconic stops on a tour of Red Square is a department store—until you see said department store, that is. Built in 1893 and known during Soviet times as the State Department Store, GUM  ( Glávnyj Universáľnyj Magazín​ or Main Universal Store in English) hearkens back to the grandeur of the late 19th century, both seen from the outside (especially, when lit up at night) and the interior, which might have you feeling like you're further west in Europe.

A trip inside GUM is a particularly good idea during winter, when frigid temperatures outside will have you savoring the heat, the quality of souvenirs, confections and other goods sold inside notwithstanding. Also, make sure not to confuse GUM with CDM, which sits near the Bolshoi Theatre, even though both are stunning and iconic in their own right.

State Historical Museum

The Russian State Historical Museum is located near Voskresensky Gates, though you should wait until after you've seen the first few attractions of Red Square and the Kremlin to head back there and go inside. To be sure, as you pass by its facade (whose late-19th century grandeur somewhat obscures that fact that it's currently a museum accessible to the public) you might not even think to try and gain entry.

Once inside the museum, you can plan to spend at least a couple of hours, given that artifacts here date back to the very beginning of the Russian state in the ninth century. As is the case with GUM, this will be a particularly alluring prospect if you visit in winter, when Moscow is arguably at its most beautiful, but certainly at its least tolerable. 

Minin-Pozharsky Monument

It's somewhat easy to disregard this monument, which pays homage to the two Russian princes who ended the so-called "Time of Troubles" in the mid-16th century, during which Polish-Lithuanian forces occupied Russia, among other awful things including a famine. That's because the statue currently sits just at the base of St. Basil's Cathedral, which makes it very difficult to photograph or even see without being overwhelmed by that much more famous edifice.

Though the statue originally sat at the very center of Red Square, it came to be an obstacle to the movement of tanks during the Soviet period, much like the Voskresensky Gates. As a result, authorities moved it during that time, and it's stayed where you currently find it ever since.

Kazan Cathedral

Taken by itself, the smokey-pink Kazan Cathedral is an architectural marvel; originally built in the 17th century, the church you find here today, located just north of the GUM department store, dates back only to 1993.

Unfortunately, since it sits not only in the shadow of GUM, but also in the shadow St. Basil's and the Towers of the Kremlin, it's easy to miss entirely if you aren't looking. As a result, you might wait until you've seen just about everything else in Red Square before coming here to take photos, and to appreciate the understated beauty of this oft-overlooked cathedral.

Moskva River

As you head south from St. Basil's Cathedral to exit Red Square, make sure to walk onto Bolshoy Moskvoretskiy Bridge, which crosses the Moskva River. If you look due north, you can get an excellent shot of the church framed, on the left, by the towers of the Kremlin. Directing your gaze a bit to the west allows you to see the skyscrapers of Moscow City as they rise above the Kremlin's walls.

Walking westward along the riverbank is also a worthwhile excursion, for the views it provides of Red Square and the Kremlin, as well as the fact that doing so takes you to other iconic Moscow attractions, including Gorky Park and the Pushkin Museum. The views you enjoy from the river and the bridge are particularly stunning at night, though you should make sure you bring a tripod if you want to get a clear picture, given how strong winds over and near the river can be.

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