Finding Common Ground: Using Logical, Audience-Specific Arguments
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When students write argumentative or persuasive essays, they often ignore the viewpoints of their opponents, the potential readers of their essays. In this minilesson, students respond to a hypothetical situation by writing about their position on the subject. After sharing their thoughts with the class, students consider the opposite point of view and write about arguments for that position. They then compare their position with that of their potential audience, looking for areas of overlap. They then revise their arguments, with the audience's point of view and areas of commonality in mind. Examining the opposing view allows students to better decide how to counter their opponent logically, perhaps finding common ground from which their arguments might grow. Thus, the activity becomes a lesson not only in choosing arguments but also in anticipating audience reaction and adapting to it.
"Finding Common Ground" Hypothetical Scenario: Use this scenario to prompt student writing about both sides of the argument.
Interactive Venn Diagram: Students can use this online tool to compare any two items, including varying positions on an argument.
From Theory to Practice
In On Becoming a Person, Carl Rogers outlines theories of problem solving and conflict resolution that involve a clear articulation of the opposing viewpoint before the author advances his or her own arguments. He writes:
Each person can speak up for himself only after he has first restated the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker accurately . . . . Once you have been able to see the other's point of view, your own comments will have to be drastically revised. You will also find the emotion going out of the discussion, the differences being reduced, and those differences which remain being of a rational and understandable sort. (332-33)
Given Rogers' viewpoint, the activity based on his theory helps students think more logically in addressing their target audience.
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
- Rehearse, and if desired modify, the scenario, which you will read in class for the students, or run off copies of it so students can refer to it.
- Have an overhead or board on which to write student responses.
- Test the Venn Diagram and Persuasion Map tools on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- discuss issues from more than one perspective (think critically).
- find areas of commonality in opposing perspectives.
- determine appropriate starting points for arguments in their writing.
Instruction & Activities
- Introduce the activity by explaining that today, students are going to think about arguments in a slightly different way—from their opponents’ (or audience’s) point of view.
- Read the scenario with the students.
- Ask students to spend a few minutes writing as accurately as possible about their position on the situation and the arguments they would use to convince their audience.
- After students have had a chance to gather their ideas, have them share their thoughts with the class.
- While the students share their responses, record their thoughts on the board or on chart paper.
- Next, ask students to consider the opposite point of view: Ask them to spend a few minutes writing as accurately as possible about their audience’s position and the arguments the audience might use.
- Invite the students to share their responses, and record on the board or on chart paper.
- Ask students to find areas of overlap between their positions and their audience’s position. Focus students on questions such as “How are you and your audience similar?” and “What basic issues can you and your audience agree on?” Students should record their observations using the Venn Diagram tool.
- Have students write how they would begin a conversation with their audience, keeping in mind the common ground they have just determined from their Venn Diagrams.
- Students can also role play the conversation with partners and then use the Persuasion Map to organize their thoughts.
- Have the students do similar lists (one that summarizes their arguments, and one that summarizes their audiences’ feelings) for their own persuasive writing, based on what they know of the audience they are addressing.
- Students can continue to explore logical arguments using Purdue OWL's resource Logic in Argumentative Writing. This resource covers logical vocabulary, reaching logical conclusions, fallacies, and improprieties—all elements important to consider when writing persuasive and argumentative texts.
Student Assessment / Reflections
Collect students’ in-class writing and Venn diagrams, or informally assess participation in the discussion. Their work during this session can also be included with the final essay as evidence of their process.
Ask students to reflect on the process they use to construct a formal argumentative essay. Have them include the analysis of the audience’s point of view and the process by which they choose their own arguments to counter them when they submit their work.