Learning to counterargue is what helps elevate students from opinion to persuasive to argumentative writing. Students can’t grow into mature writers or meet the common core standards until they know how to counterargue. Teaching students how to create an effective counterargument can be a lot of fun.
When I Had to Counterargue
I have been a gymnast since I was three years old. I have loved the sport as a toddler, recreational student, team member, and coach. The gym I grew up in has gone up for sale two times. Once back in 2006 when I was 21 and just out of college. It went up for sale again in the summer of 2020 during the height of the Covid-19 Pandemic.
I mentioned to my sisters that it was going up for sale or closing. I knew I couldn’t buy and run it on my own with my toddler in tow. To my surprise, my sisters thought about it and were interested in buying it and turning it into a family business. I was so excited since I had been part of the gym for over 30 years. Coaching gymnastics is what made me want to teach.
We met with the owners to discuss the price, location, state of the business, and possibilities. It seemed like a great opportunity, but the timing wasn’t right. I had to argue against buying a place I had loved my whole life. There would have been too many things to get in order.
- Find a new location
- Ensure enough income to pay the current owners in the next four years
- Make sure the staff would stay on
- Bring students back to the gym during a worldwide pandemic.
- Learn how to run this business
It was clear to me that even though I loved my gym and didn’t want it to close, it was not the right time to buy the business.
Think Before Teaching Students How to Counterargue
Before you start your persuasive writing unit takes some time to start noticing counterarguments around you. You will notice them everywhere if you start looking. It could be from tv, movies, family conversations, or work-related. Taking some time to notice real-life examples and how you employed your ability to counterargue can be great stories to share with your students.
What Does it Mean to Counterargue?
An argument is using a reason or several reasons to persuade and prove to others that an action or idea is right or wrong. Counter means to oppose or go against. A counterargument is a combination of these two words. A counterargument is an argument that goes against the main argument.
When students are writing a persuasive essay they should use counterarguments to prove their point. When writers counterargue they will usually give their idea, address the counterargument that others might have, and then explain why their idea is correct.
Students counterargue with their parents all the time to try to get what they want. But students don’t understand this skill or how to purposely and strategically employ it. They are going to learn more than how to give an opinion in writing, they are going to learn to persuade and argue their thoughts and ideas.
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Why Do Students Need to Know How to Counterargue?
Addressing counterarguments is what transforms students’ writing from opinion writing to persuasive and argumentative writing. As students progress through the grades the common core requirements change from opinion to argumentative, however, most teachers refer to these as persuasive.
Persuasive writing is important beyond the common core though. Students will need to learn to persuade their parents, teachers, college professors, bosses, and coworkers. I’m sure they’ve spent plenty of time persuading friends too.
Counterarguments make persuasive writing stronger because it shows that the writer respects and understands the opposing side. It’s important when a writer is trying to persuade someone that they consider the other person’s point of view and explain how they thought about it but still came to their conclusion.
A good counterargument shows the writer is fair, thoughtful, smart, intelligent, and right. The writer has studied the topic, considered both sides, and come to a logical conclusion after careful thought. The writer is so confident they are right that they are willing to discuss both sides and prove why their conclusion is correct.
Teach the Basics Before Teaching Students to Counterargue
Before your students can learn to counterargue they need to learn some other basic writing skills. When I was in the classroom we would teach narrative writing, expository writing, then persuasive writing and include poetry lessons sprinkled in all year long. Depending on the order your school or district teaches the types of writing you might need to make sure your students understand some of these basics. You may alter this list to fit your students’ needs.
Students need to be able to hook the reader with a strong opening. A strong hook is different for each type of writing, but all of them require hooks. You will likely need a mini-lesson on how to write a persuasive hook.
- Thesis Statement
Thesis statements exist in expository (informational) writing too however, in informational writing, there isn’t usually an opposing viewpoint. A mini-lesson on how students can write a persuasive thesis would help your students succeed. A persuasive thesis should state the writer’s opinion or idea in clear, simple language that the reader can understand.
- Background Information
Background information is anything the reader needs to know to understand the topic they are about to read about. This can include history, definitions, context, or current events. Background information does not support the writer’s thesis, but it does improve the readers’ understanding of the topic. The writer cannot assume the reader has the same knowledge or understanding of the topic.
- Making Claims
Students need to feel confident making claims about a topic. There are three types of claims and most persuasive writing can fall under these claims: facts, values, and policies. Fact claims are when the writer is trying to prove if a fact is true or not. A value claim is when the writer is trying to prove if something is good or bad. Policy claims persuade the reader that one course of action is better than another.
- Supporting Evidence
My students were already used to adding evidence and information in their writing from informational writing and literary analysis (reading response). This skill should translate to persuasive writing fairly easily as long as your students have researched their topics well.
Research fills students’ brains with background knowledge, facts, statics, and ideas that they can include in their writing If your students researched well then they should be brimming with ideas on how to persuade the writing with information.
For some students, it’s a challenging task. It just means that they will need more examples, modeling, and practice before they start to understand it.
Counterargue in Friendly Debates
Friendly debates are one of the most fun and exciting ways to engage students in persuasive writing. Google search for one of the many lists of topics out there. Pick a few that you think would be good for your class. Start with one and have your students decide which side they are on. Then students can take turns explaining their thoughts and ideas. As their peers explain students are allowed to change their minds and switch sides.
After your students get some practice with this then you can give them a topic to research for 10 minutes. From there have your students decide which side of the argument they are on. Then with some research in hand students will be able to share their ideas with supporting evidence.
I would repeat this whole activity in small groups to ensure that everyone participates. It’s easy for students to go with the crowd in these simple debates, but often they are so much fun that students are excited to participate. Students can dive deeper into their knowledge and counterarguments in small groups.
Research to Counterargue
In a way, persuasive writing is a combination of narrative and expository writing. In persuasive writing, students use their ideas, knowledge, and background to decide what they believe and then use research to back it up. That is why research is vital in persuasive writing and in writing a successful counterargument. The combination of personal ideas and information sets persuasive writing apart from other types of writing.
First students need to have completed thorough research so they understand both sides and are sure they still agree with the position they chose. Second, they need to understand the other perspectives on the topic so they can connect with opposing sides. Third, they need to learn the counterarguments and objections from research so that they can address them in their paper.
Counterargue Through Strong Structure
As with any writing assignment, a strong structure with good organization of ideas is critical. A persuasive essay will have a similar format to most essays. There will be a hook and thesis statement with three or more paragraphs describing the main points that support the thesis, including evidence. Then the writer should conclude the essay by repeating the thesis and recapping for the readers why they should agree.
The real question is where should your students include the counterarguments. There are two structure options for how students can present counterarguments in their essays. There may be a format you prefer them to use too, which is okay. Over the year of writing, you may ask them to practice both formats.
The first is when a student is writing one of their reasons they include the counterargument right away in the same paragraph. So each paragraph includes a reason to agree and a counterargument. The second option is to have a paragraph before the closing paragraph that addresses all of the counterarguments. I prefer the first option but you can choose your class.
Sentence Starters to Help Counterargue
As your students are learning how to counterargue it can be helpful to outline the counterargument or give them sentence starters. Here is an example of how to outline a counterargument with a sentence frame.
One might argue (fill in the opposing argument) because (share evidence the opposing side might refer to). However, (refute the opposing argument by pointing out its weakness such as being too old or inaccurate) because (explain why this argument is a weakness for the opposing side). Therefore (restate why your argument/position is correct).
Reading 25 essays with all the counterarguments written the same can be boring so you can also provide some sentence starters to help your students along. Here are a few examples.
- Some people say…
- It may be true that…
- It’s easy to think…
- You might argue that…
- Although some people think/believe…
- Some people argue…
- Those who believe…claim that…
- A common argument against this position is…but…
- While some researchers say…nevertheless…
- It is often thought…
Students Who Can Counterargue
With some solid research and practice, your students will learn the art of counterarguments. Keep practicing and repeating the lessons that you have been teaching them to support them through this learning process. And be sure to have fun with persuasive writing. It’s a great opportunity to help your students love writing.
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