Developing Evidence-Based Arguments from Texts
About this Strategy Guide
This guide provides teachers with strategies for helping students understand the differences between persuasive writing and evidence-based argumentation. Students become familiar with the basic components of an argument and then develop their understanding by analyzing evidence-based arguments about texts. Students then generate evidence-based arguments of texts using a variety of resources. Links to related resources and additional classroom strategies are also provided.
Hillocks (2010) contends that argument is “at the heart of critical thinking and academic discourse, the kind of writing students need to know for success in college” (p. 25). He points out that “many teachers begin to teach some version of argument with the writing of a thesis statement, [but] in reality, good argument begins with looking at the data that are likely to become the evidence in an argument and that give rise to a thesis statement or major claim” (p. 26). Students need an understanding of the components of argument and the process through which careful examination of textual evidence becomes the beginnings of a claim about text.
Strategy in Practice
- Begin by helping students understand the differences between persuasive writing and evidence-based argumentation: persuasion and argument share the goal of asserting a claim and trying to convince a reader or audience of its validity, but persuasion relies on a broader range of possible support. While argumentation tends to focus on logic supported by verifiable examples and facts, persuasion can use unverifiable personal anecdotes and a more apparent emotional appeal to make its case. Additionally, in persuasion, the claim usually comes first; then the persuader builds a case to convince a particular audience to think or feel the same way. Evidence-based argument builds the case for its claim out of available evidence. Solid understanding of the material at hand, therefore, is necessary in order to argue effectively. This printable resource provides further examples of the differences between persuasive and argumentative writing.
- One way to help students see this distinction is to offer a topic and two stances on it: one persuasive and one argumentative. Trying to convince your friend to see a particular movie with you is likely persuasion. Sure, you may use some evidence from the movie to back up your claim, but you may also threaten to get upset with him or her if he or she refuses—or you may offer to buy the popcorn if he or she agrees to go. Making the argument for why a movie is better (or worse) than the book it’s based on would be more argumentative, relying on analysis of examples from both works to build a case. Consider using resources from the ReadWriteThink lesson plan Argument, Persuasion, or Propaganda: Analyzing World War II Posters
- Familiarize students with the basic components of an argument:
- The claim (that typically answers the question: “What do I think?”)
- The reasons (that typically answer the question: “Why do I think this?”)
- The evidence (that typically answers the question: “How do I know this is the case?”).
- Deepen students’ understanding of the components of argument by analyzing evidence-based arguments about texts. Project, for example, this essay on Gertrude in Hamlet and ask students to identify the claim, reasons, and evidence. Ask students to clarify what makes this kind of text an argument as opposed to persuasion. What might a persuasive take on the character of Gertrude sound like? (You may also wish to point out the absence of a counterargument in this example. Challenge students to offer one.)
- Point out that even though the claim comes first in the sample essay, the writer of the essay likely did not start there. Rather, he or she arrived at the claim as a result of careful reading of and thinking about the text. Share with students that evidence-based writing about texts always begins with close reading. See Close Reading of Literary Texts strategy guide for additional information.
- Guide students through the process of generating an evidence-based argument of a text by using the Designing an Evidence-based Argument Handout. Decide on an area of focus (such as the development of a particular character) and using a short text, jot down details or phrases related to that focus in the first space on the chart. After reading and some time for discussion of the character, have students look at the evidence and notice any patterns. Record these in the second space. Work with the students to narrow the patterns to a manageable list and re-read the text, this time looking for more instances of the pattern that you may have missed before you were looking for it. Add these references to the list.
- Use the evidence and patterns to formulate a claim in the last box. Point out to students that most texts can support multiple (sometimes even competing) claims, so they are not looking for the “one right thing” to say about the text, but they should strive to say something that has plenty of evidence to support it, but is not immediately self-evident. Claims can also be more or less complex, such as an outright claim (The character is X trait) as opposed to a complex claim (Although the character is X trait, he is also Y trait). For examples of development of a claim (a thesis is a type of claim), see the Developing a Thesis Handout for additional guidance on this point.
- Once students have a claim, they can use the patterns they detected to start formulating reasons and textual references for evidence. Use these ReadWriteThink resources to help students build their plans into a fully developed evidence based argument about text:
- Have students use the Evidence-Based Argument Checklist to revise and strengthen their writing.
More Ideas to Try
- This Strategy Guide focuses on making claims about text, with a focus on literary interpretation. The basic tenets of the guide, however, can apply to argumentation in multiple disciplines—e.g., a response to a Document-Based Question in social science, a lab report in science.
- For every argumentative claim that students develop for a text, have them try writing a persuasive claim about the text to continue building an understanding of their difference.
- After students have drafted an evidence-based argument, ask them to choose an alternative claim or a counterclaim to be sure their original claim is argumentative.
- Have students use the Evidence-Based Argument checklist to offer feedback to one another.