Collaborative and Interactive Games to Practice Argument Writing!
I absolutely LOVE teaching argument writing because of its natural ability to engage students, and the amazing life skills (21st century skills) naturally taught within the unit. What teenager does not love an opportunity to argue their opinion? I have long since allowed my students the opportunity to choose their topic for the final assessment piece. It is wonderful to see their truest passion sprawled across the page. Teenagers are nothing if not passionate about their beliefs. When this passion is coupled with a new, greater understanding of the larger world around them, the product is truly amazing. Teenagers naturally begin to leave to security of their family and search for greater meaning, and their greater purpose in the world. They begin to understand and question like never before. When given an opportunity to explore a new topic with vigor and excitement, their argument papers are the better for it.
Yet, I found that even with this passionate topic, students still struggled with the essential argument writing skills. I yearned for a way to practice skills such as evaluating the sufficiency of evidence and seeing multiple perspectives on a topic. I wished to help them in creating rich and effective arguments with elements of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos. Finally, I needed to find a way to help students in creating effective counter-arguments that actually refute the argument as opposed to simply changing the subject.
I spent some time over the summer wracking my brain for ideas on improving these skills without removing the natural engagement my students have with this unit. In fact, the question I repeatedly posed to myself was: how can I increase engagement? How can I get students as passionate about argument writing as I am?
The answer came within a professional development course taken during workshop week. Though I was desperate to get into my classroom, I, rather begrudgingly, attended one of the mandatory sessions. This session was on “Gaming in the Classroom: Increasing Student Engagement”. As I listened to gaming options for other subjects, as few were English relevant, I began to think about this particular argument unit. How could I gamify argument writing? Pencil hit paper, and I was able to created several games for my own classroom. I have since been able to add to, and perfect this list.
Game # 1- The Musical Debaters:
As its name may suggest, this game is a play on the musical chairs game. To set up your classroom, simply place your chairs in two circles- one outer circle and one inner circle. Face these chairs towards each other so opponents can argue face-to-face. Those students within the inner circle will argue FOR the topic (regardless of personal opinion) and those in the outer circle will argue AGAINST the topic. Then, simply pose a debatable topic that students will be passionate about and allow them to argue. Set a time limit for each side to pose arguments. After the time is up, ask students to stand and switch places with their partner. Those within the inner circle are now in the outer circle and vice versa! Play some music that your teenagers will enjoy and ask them to move within their current circle (I encourage them to dance, but some may not choose this!) When the music stops, students sit in their new chair and face a new partner. Pose the same topic, and ask students to argue again- this time arguing from a new perspective- the opposite side.
Game #2- Tug-of-War
With this game, students will be working in teams to win the argument Tug-of-War. This game will help students evaluate the sufficiency, relevancy, and proper order of evidence within an argument. I simply draw a line on the board to represent the rope. Then, I split my class into two groups and ask them to move desks/chairs near one another. I determine which large group will argue FOR the topic/question, and which will argue AGAINST. Then, to make this group manageable, I ask students to work in smaller groups of three to four students. These small groups will still be a part of the larger team. Finally, I will pose an arguable topic to my students. Each small group should work towards creating an argument for their side. I do allow my students to use technology so they are able to find evidence to support their thinking. Students will write these arguments on a post-it note. After a sufficient amount of time has passed, and most groups are prepared with an argument and evidence, I ask students to meet as a larger group. Within this larger group, students should share all of the arguments and evidence found, and order them from strongest to weakest. When groups are ready, ask a student representative to bring forward the weakest arguments. Place these on the Tug-of-War rope. As the teacher and judge, you determine which side has brought forward the stronger argument, modeling your thinking aloud. Continue until all evidence is posed and all post-its are on the ‘rope’. Determine a winner based on the sufficiency and relevancy of the evidence. Model your thinking throughout!
Looking for even more argument games? The Argument Games bundle will provide you with five collaborative, active games that will have students creating arguments, counter-arguments, evaluating perspectives and sufficiency of evidence! A list of interesting and unique arguable topics can be found within this unit, as well as classroom signs for the games!
These games are also included in the units below! Click on the image to learn more!
Liz is a collaborator on teachwriting.org and the founder of Teach BeTween the Lines. She has been teaching for over ten years; she has loved growing young minds through literature and the art of crafting the written word. She is currently working on her doctorate in Education from the University of Minnesota, and holds an M.A. in Education from St. Mary’s University, Minnesota. She loves to write short stories in her free time, especially in those cold Minnesota winters. She is supported by a wonderful family made better by the addition of her two beautiful children.