|WRITING 121 HOME | SYLLABI | ANALYSIS | PAPER THREE | COURSE RESOURCES | LIFE AT OSU | ENGLISH DEPARTMENT|
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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