Argumentative Essay Example For High School
Instructors tend to spend the most time on this, as it requires the most student research. In this unit, students should learn to evaluate and use evidence effectively, structure an argument, and understand shared assumptions.
Argument Topics: Often, students choose broad topics, such as "death penalty" or "abortion"--topics which can't be adequately addressed in a short paper. One way to avoid this is to have students choose from a list. Here's a list of more than sixty tried-and-true topics, broken into the following categories: education, free speech, crime and punishment, war and history, local, role of the government, and discrimination and civil rights.
Argument Paper Assignment: It can be useful to give students a concise sheet delineating the guidelines for the paper. Many iterations are acceptable; here are a few samples from past GTAs: sample one; sample two; sample three; sample four.
Process Memo: On the day students turn in their first draft, some GTAs have them write "Process Memos"--basically a note letting you know what they think is working in the paper. You can simply have students answer the following on a separate sheet of paper: 1. What's working well in your essay? 2. What's not working as well? 3. What are your questions for me? This can serve as a starting point for conferences. Alternatively, some GTAs create more extensive Process Memos. Here's an example.
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Lessons and Lectures
Structuring an Argument: Coming into Writing 121, many students will have no idea how to organize an argument paper. Though it's good to give them some flexibility, general guidelines always help. You might want to start with a general explanation of how an argument is built. Draw this on the board and have students suggest examples of a claim, main reasons, supporting facts, and counterarguments. After that, you may want to give students a more detailed handout about structuring an argument. Here's one that uses a classical Greek rhetorical outline. Here's a more basic handout.
Going Greek: Many GTAs introduce the concept of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos early on to create common ground in understanding argument. Others introduce it earlier, in the analysis section. Here are some brief lecture notes for Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. You may find it useful to go a little deeper into Aristotelian Argument as well.
Assessing the Reliability of Sources: Many students regard research as a "treasure hunt;" that is, they look for any information that supports what they want to say. One challenge of teaching argument is helping them understand that some may be more reliable than others. Here are some questions to ask when assessing the validity of primary and secondary sources. After going over this with students, you may want to have them rank a few sources themselves. Inevitably, everyone disagrees, which can lead to an interesting discussion about what makes a source "reliable."
Basics of Arguing a Position: Some brief, but useful lecture notes. Overarching and conceptual.
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Activities and Handouts
Shared Assumptions: Sometimes, it's a surprise to students that others don't share their assumptions about gender, race, politics, etc. This introductory dialogue humorously illustrates this idea. It works well when followed up with a group activity that introduces students to the idea of shared assumptions--what can they assume in a paper versus what needs to be proven. Each student should each have his or her own handout, but the whole group must agree before going on to the next question, which ideally both frustrates and enlightens students (and ourselves).
Entering the Conversation: Sometimes it can be difficult for students to realize that in writing an academic argument, they're participating in a larger, ongoing conversation. This "Entering the Conversation" worksheet is designed to help accustom students to the idea that they're about to be part of a community of discourse.
People v. Caufield Debate Activity: Adapted from an old Constitutional Rights Foundation Mock Trial case, the Caufield debate activity gives students two "witnesses" and a "fact situation" and asks them to argue for different interpretations. This can be used as the basis for a writing activity, a group activity, or an in-class debate. Students tend to latch onto it pretty quickly. Here's an instructor cheat sheet, which is helpful when you need to jump-start discussion. Also, to simplify things, you can just cut the questions at the end and have students debate Caufield's guilt or innocence.
Argument Vocabulary:Here's a handout to give students some "buzzwords" for their argument papers. It may be useful to go over these with them in class, or as an activity, to have them pick five they've never heard before and use them in sentences.
Logical Fallacies: Sometimes it's easier for students to recognize faulty reasoning in other people's work than in their own. This Reuters article about the legalization of marijuana is rife with bad reasoning from both sides. It also works as a discussion-starter for talking about claims and reasons. After teaching logical fallacies, here are some tests, quizzes, and handouts to use (pulled from another website).
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Using Sample Essays: The following are argument papers written by students from previous years. Note that these vary drastically in quality; they are not all examples of A or B papers. However, they can be very useful for students to look at, and especially to analyze as a class, encouraging students to brainstorm ways these papers can be strengthened.
Sample Essays: Names have been changed, and all students have agreed for their essays to be used:
Should people claiming "Conscientious Objector" status be exempt from serving in the military during wartime?
Should SUVs be made illegal?
Should it be legal for two people of the same sex to marry each other?
Is the death penalty an effective deterrent to murder?
Should prostitution be legalized throughout the U.S?
Is pornography harmful to society?
Another essay about whether pornography is harmful to society
Should high school athletes be given drug tests?
Should the SAT's be a factor in college admissions?
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Resources for Students: Though most students come into the course with a lot of experience using the internet, many have never used it for serious research. Generally, it's a good idea to require students to use at least two or three sources in their argument papers that aren't from the web. It may also be useful to give students a few starting points for web research. Here are some websites students have found helpful in the past:
Constitutional Rights Foundation: a great page for links to various resources, including magazine indexes, polls, encyclopedias, search engines.
OSU's Electronic Resources: ERIC and Lexis-Nexis are especially useful
OSU Research Links: same thing, but arranged by subject
American Civil Liberties Union: links and info, a liberal angle
The American Center for Law and Justice: links and info, a conservative and (sometimes) religious angle
USConstitution.net: information about researching constitutional issues
Public Agenda Online
National Center for Policy Analysis
Ohio University Society and Policy: research links, especially regarding ESL, immigration, and affirmative action
Issues 2002: Crime: popular crime-related issues
Time Magazine Online Archives: you can read the start of the article, and if it looks good, students can get it in the OSU library
Public Opinion Poll Question Database
Resources for You: Many universities' composition classes focus on persuasive writing, and web resources aren't too difficult to find. Here are a few that have been especially useful to GTAs in the past.
Purdue Online Writing Guide for Persuasive/Argumentative Writing
Basic Principles of Persuasive Writing
Nuts and Bolt of College Writing: Arguments
Essays and Arguments: A Handbook on Writing Argumentative and Interpretative Essays
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Alternative Argument Assignments: Some GTAs have students use the same topic for the argument paper as for the analysis paper, but have them develop it in a different way. Here's one that incorporates an exploratory paper and presentation. Others use a different approach altogether; this one uses a non-objective, "columnist-style," first-person approach.
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Updated, March 2, 2017 | We published an updated version of this list, “401 Prompts for Argumentative Writing,” as well as a companion piece, “650 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing.” We also now have a PDF of these 200 prompts.
Sign up for our free weekly newsletter and get five new Student Opinion questions delivered to you every week.
What issues do you care most about? What topics do you find yourself discussing most passionately, whether online, at the dinner table, in the classroom or with your friends?
Our annual Student Editorial Contest invites you to write an evidence-based persuasive piece on an issue that matters to you. To help jump-start your brainstorming, we have gathered a list of 200 writing prompts from our daily Student Opinion feature that invite you to take a stand.
Though you won’t be limited to these topics for the contest, you’ll see that our list touches on every aspect of modern life, from politics to sports, culture, education and technology. We hope the range inspires you, and we hope the fact that each question links to at least one related Times article gives you a starting point for finding evidence.
So skim the list below to think about the topic you’d most like to take on.
For more information, here are links to our spring 2014 editorial-writing contest, a list of winners from that contest and a related lesson plan on argumentative writing.
- Is Cheating Getting Worse?
- Should Students Be Able to Grade Their Teachers?
- Does Your School Hand Out Too Many A’s?
- Should Middle School Students Be Drug Tested?
- Should Reading and Math Be Taught in Gym Class Too?
- How Seriously Should We Take Standardized Tests?
- How Well Do You Think Standardized Tests Measure Your Abilities?
- Do You Spend Too Much Time Preparing for Standardized Tests?
- Should Schools Offer Cash Bonuses for Good Test Scores?
- Should We Rethink How Long Students Spend in High School?
- Do Schools Provide Students With Enough Opportunities to Be Creative?
- What Are You Really Learning at School?
- How Important Is Arts Education?
- Does Gym Help Students Perform Better in All Their Classes?
- Who Should Be Able to See Students’ Records?
- Are Children of Illegal Immigrants Entitled to a Public Education?
- What Is the Right Amount of Group Work in School?
- Is Your School Day Too Short?
- Do You Think a Longer School Calendar Is a Good Idea?
- Should the Dropout Age Be Raised?
- Should Students Be Allowed to Skip Senior Year of High School?
- How Does Your School Deal With Students Who Misbehave?
- Should Schools Be Allowed to Use Corporal Punishment?
- How Big a Problem Is Bullying or Cyberbullying in Your School or Community?
- How Should Schools Address Bullying?
- Should Schools Put Tracking Devices in Students’ ID Cards?
- What Do You Think of Grouping Students by Ability in Schools?
- Do We Need a New Way to Teach Math?
- Does Class Size Matter?
- Should All Students Get Equal Space in a Yearbook?
- Is Prom Worth It?
- How Important Are Parent-Teacher Conferences?
- Should All Children Be Able to Go to Preschool?
- Should Colleges Use Admissions Criteria Other Than SAT Scores and Grades?
- What Criteria Should Be Used in Awarding Scholarships for College?
- Do You Support Affirmative Action?
- Do College Rankings Matter?
- How Necessary Is a College Education?
- Should Engineers Pay Less for College Than English Majors?
- Are the Web Filters at Your School Too Restrictive?
- Does Technology Make Us More Alone?
- Are You Distracted by Technology?
- Do Apps Help You or Just Waste Your Time?
- Do You Spend Too Much Time on Smart Phones Playing ‘Stupid Games’?
- Has Facebook Lost Its Edge?
- Does Facebook Ever Make You Feel Bad?
- Should What You Say on Facebook Be Grounds for Getting Fired?
- Should People Be Allowed to Obscure Their Identities Online?
- What Should the Punishment Be for Acts of Cyberbullying?
- Is Online Learning as Good as Face-to-Face Learning?
- Do Your Teachers Use Technology Well?
- Should Tablet Computers Become the Primary Way Students Learn in Class?
- Can Cellphones Be Educational Tools?
- Should Computer Games Be Used for Classroom Instruction?
- How Young Is Too Young for an iPhone?
- Should Companies Collect Information About You?
- Would You Trade Your Paper Books for Digital Versions?
- Are Digital Photographs Too Plentiful to Be Meaningful?
- Do You Worry We Are Filming Too Much?
- Would You Want a Pair of Google’s Computer Glasses?
- How Would You Feel About a Computer Grading Your Essays?
- What Role Will Robots Play in Our Future?
- How Many Text Messages Are Too Many?
- How Much Do You Trust Online Reviews?
- Why Do We Like to Watch Rich People on TV and in the Movies?
- Do TV Shows Like ‘16 and Pregnant’ Promote or Discourage Teenage Pregnancy?
- Does TV Capture the Diversity of America Yet?
- Is TV Too White?
- Is TV Stronger Than Ever, or Becoming Obsolete?
- Does Reality TV Promote Dangerous Stereotypes?
- What Current Musicians Do You Think Will Stand the Test of Time?
- What Artists or Bands of Today Are Destined for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
- What Musician, Actor or Author Should Be a Superstar, but Hasn’t Quite Made It Yet?
- Will Musical Training Make You More Successful?
- Should Video Games Be Considered a Sport?
- Should Stores Sell Violent Video Games to Minors?
- Can a Video Game Be a Work of Art?
- Do Violent Video Games Make People More Violent in Real Life?
- When Should You Feel Guilty for Killing Zombies?
- What Game Would You Like to Redesign?
- What Were the Best Movies You Saw in the Past Year?
- To What Writer Would You Award a Prize?
- Do You Prefer Your Children’s Book Characters Obedient or Contrary?
- Where Is the Line Between Truth and Fiction?
- Can Graffiti Ever Be Considered Art?
- Do We Need Art in Our Lives?
- What Makes a Good Commercial?
- Why Did a Cheerios Ad Attract So Many Angry Comments Online?
- Does Pop Culture Deserve Serious Study?
- Do Parents Have Different Hopes and Standards for Their Sons Than for Their Daughters?
- Is School Designed More for Girls Than Boys?
- Is There Too Much Pressure on Girls to Have ‘Perfect’ Bodies?
- How Much Pressure Do Boys Face to Have the Perfect Body?
- Do Photoshopped Images Make You Feel Bad About Your Own Looks?
- Is It O.K. for Men and Boys to Comment on Women and Girls on the Street?
- What Should We Do to Fight Sexual Violence Against Young Women?
- How Do You Feel About Rihanna and Chris Brown Getting Back Together?
- Do Fraternities Promote Misogyny?
- Why Aren’t There More Girls in Leadership Roles?
- Why Aren’t More Girls Choosing to Pursue Careers in Math and Science?
- Should Women Be Allowed to Fight on the Front Lines Alongside Men?
- Do You Believe in Equal Rights for Women and Men?
- Are Women Better at Compromising and Collaborating?
- Do Boys Have Less Intense Friendships Than Girls?
- If Football Is So Dangerous to Players, Should We Be Watching It?
- Should Parents Let Their Children Play Football?
- Should College Football Players Get Paid?
- When Do Pranks Cross the Line to Become Bullying?
- Has Baseball Lost Its Cool?
- Are Some Youth Sports Too Intense?
- Is It Offensive for Sports Teams to Use Native American Names and Mascots?
- Where Should Colleges and Sports Teams Draw the Line in Selling Naming Rights?
- Should Colleges Fund Wellness Programs Instead of Sports?
- Is Cheerleading a Sport?
- How Big a Deal Is It That an N.B.A. Player Came Out as Gay?
- Should There Be Stricter Rules About How Coaches Treat Their Players?
- Should Athletes Who Dope Have to Forfeit Their Titles and Medals?
- Should Sports Betting Be Legal Everywhere?
- Should Home-Schoolers Be Allowed to Play Public School Sports?
- Would You Want a Bike Share Program for Your Community?
- What Local Problems Do You Think Your Mayor Should Try to Solve?
- If You Were Governor of Your State, How Would You Spend a Budget Surplus?
- When Is the Use of Military Force Justified?
- What Is More Important: Our Privacy or National Security?
- Should the U.S. Be Spying on Its Friends?
- Do You Trust Your Government?
- What Do You Think of the Police Tactic of Stop-and-Frisk?
- Do Rich People Get Off Easier When They Break the Law?
- Should Rich People Have to Pay More Taxes?
- Do Laws That Ban Offensive Words Make the World a Better Place?
- Is It Principled, or Irresponsible, for Politicians to Threaten a Shutdown?
- Do Leaders Have Moral Obligations?
- Do Great Leaders Have to Be Outgoing?
- How Should We Prevent Future Mass Shootings?
- Should Guns Be Permitted on College Campuses?
- Would You Feel Safer With Armed Guards Patrolling Your School?
- What Is Your Relationship With Guns?
- Do You Support or Oppose the Death Penalty?
- When Should Juvenile Offenders Receive Life Sentences?
- Do We Give Children Too Many Trophies?
- When Do You Become an Adult?
- When Should You Be Able to Buy Cigarettes, Drink Alcohol, Vote, Drive and Fight in Wars?
- Should the Morning-After Pill Be Sold Over the Counter to People Under 17?
- Should Birth Control Pills Be Available to Teenage Girls Without a Prescription?
- Is Modern Culture Ruining Childhood?
- Are Adults Hurting Young Children by Pushing Them to Achieve?
- How, and by Whom, Should Children Be Taught Appropriate Behavior?
- What Can Older People Learn From Your Generation?
- Do ‘Shame and Blame’ Work to Change Teenage Behavior?
- How Should Children Be Taught About Puberty and Sex?
- Is Dating a Thing of the Past?
- How Should Parents Handle a Bad Report Card?
- Should Children Be Allowed to Wear Whatever They Want?
- How Should Educators and Legislators Deal With Minors Who ‘Sext’?
- Do You Think Child Stars Have It Rough?
- Is Smoking Still a Problem Among Teenagers?
- Are Antismoking Ads Effective?
- Is Drinking and Driving Still a Problem for Teenagers?
- Do You Think a Healthier School Lunch Program Is a Lost Cause?
- How Concerned Are You About Where Your Food Comes From?
- Is It Ethical to Eat Meat?
- Do You Prefer Your Tacos ‘Authentic’ or ‘Appropriated’?
- Should the Government Limit the Size of Sugary Drinks?
- Should Marijuana Be Legal?
- Should Students Be Required to Take Drug Tests?
- Do Bystanders Have a Responsibility to Intervene When There is Trouble?
- Should You Care About the Health and Safety of Those Making Your Clothing?
- Can Money Buy You Happiness?
- Does Buying and Accumulating More and More Stuff Make Us Happier?
- Are We Losing the Art of Listening?
- Do People Complain Too Much?
- Can Kindness Become Cool?
- Which Is More Important: Talent or Hard Work?
- How Important Is Keeping Your Cool?
- When Should You Compromise?
- Is Your Generation More Self-Centered Than Earlier Generations?
- Can You Be Good Without God?
- Have Curse Words Become So Common They Have Lost Their Shock Value?
- What Words or Phrases Should Be Retired in 2014?
- What Words or Phrases Do You Think Are Overused?
- Should Couples Live Together Before Marriage?
- How Important Do You Think It Is to Marry Someone With the Same Religion?
- How Long Is It O.K. to Linger in a Cafe or Restaurant?
- Does Keeping a Messy Desk Make People More Creative?
- How Important Is Keeping a Clean House?
- Should Scientists Try to Help People Beat Old Age So We Can Live Longer Lives?
- Given Unlimited Resources, What Scientific or Medical Problem Would You Investigate?
- When Is It O.K. to Replace Human Limbs With Technology?
- Do You Think Life Exists — or Has Ever Existed — Somewhere Besides Earth?
- Should Fertilized Eggs Be Given Legal ‘Personhood’?
- How Concerned Are You About Climate Change?
- Is It Wrong for a Newspaper to Publish a Front-Page Photo of a Man About to Die?
- What Causes Should Philanthropic Groups Finance?
- Should Charities Focus More on America?
- Should the Private Lives of Famous People Be Off Limits?
- Did a Newspaper Act Irresponsibly by Publishing the Addresses of Gun Owners?
- Would You Rather Work From Home or in an Office?
- What Time Should Black Friday Sales Start?
- Do You Shop at Locally Owned Businesses?
- How Much Does Your Neighborhood Define Who You Are?
Technology and Social Media
Arts and Media: TV, Music, Video Games and Literature
Sports and Athletics
Politics and the Legal System
Parenting and Childhood
Health and Nutrition
Personal Character and Morality Questions