|Today we’ll answer the questions: What is an argumentative text? And how do I teach it to my third graders? (And fourth graders)|
You’ve spent hours scouring the internet and are about to pull your hair out and/or break your computer. You’re not alone.
Searching for resources to teach argumentative text can drive you crazy. There’s not a whole lot out there for it that’s appropriate for our third and fourth graders. Partially, I believe, this is because it’s just so dang hard to teach. And, it’s often confused as the same thing as persuasive text, which you can find resources for all over the place.
To teach it best, we need to start with our knowledge of it.
So, What Is An Argumentative Text?
Before we do anything else, we need to be able to answer the question, “What is an argumentative text?” An argumentative text is a piece of writing in which the author states a claim, or position, and supports it with evidence to make the reader understand it as a valid argument.
The author relies on logic, facts, and credible sources to make his/her argument. This means that a lot of the real work begins before the author puts pen to paper with his/her thoughts. The actual starting place is in researching the topic. Then the author chooses a side or an argument.
Argumentative texts, especially those geared toward an audience above the age of 9, present the other side of the argument in the text. The author does this to show his/her fair-mindedness, but also to counter the argument with facts and evidence to show the reader that the author’s claim has more merit.
Persuasive vs. Argumentative Text
A lot of people confuse the two or use the words interchangeably. The differences between persuasive and argumentative text are subtle but important. And knowing them will significantly impact our teaching of the two genres.
The big thing that stands out here is that argumentative text supports the author’s claim with more factual evidence in an attempt to prove that the claim is valid, while persuasive text tends to appeal to the reader’s emotions in an attempt to get the reader to agree with the author’s opinion.
This difference is perhaps why the TEKS (the state standards in Texas) for writing include having the students write “opinion” pieces and the Common Core writing standards call for “opinion pieces,” leaving the word argumentative out of it altogether. To have the students write a true argumentative piece, research needs to be conducted first to gather evidence from credible sources. By contrast, our students can write opinion pieces by drawing from their own experiences and prior knowledge.
How important is it that our 3rd and 4th graders know the difference between the two?
I don’t really see the need to have our kids outline the differences between persuasive and argumentative texts. And I don’t think it’s worthwhile to practice distinguishing between them. They will get more detailed with it in later grades.
I do, however, think it’s important that we don’t confuse them by using the words interchangeably or teaching the two as the same thing. And let’s be sure to keep the differences between argumentative and persuasive texts in mind as we choose mentor texts.
If you’re wanting to highlight a difference for them, an easy way is to connect it to what they learned in second grade about persuasive. Say something like, “Last year you learned about persuasive text. This year, we’re going to learn about another genre that’s similar but gives a little more factual evidence.”
How do we teach argumentative text to our third graders?
Let’s start by looking at what the kids need to be able to do by the end of the unit:
- recognize the characteristics and structures of argumentative text,
- identify the claim,
- distinguish facts from opinions,
- and identify the intended audience.
- And, looking ahead to fourth grade, they will also need to be able to explain how the author used facts to support the argument.
That’s a lot.
Let’s break it apart into smaller, more digestible pieces.
Start with the Prerequisites
There are a couple of things that your students must understand first to analyze an argumentative text.
- First, students need to understand how to identify main idea and the details that support it. This will help students identify the author’s claim and the main reasons/pieces of evidence the author is using to support it.
- Your students need to have a basic understanding of author’s purpose.
- Students also need to be able to distinguish between fact and opinion. Teaching this first will help students understand the validity and effectiveness of an author’s claim and rationale. Consider doing a sorting activity or using task cards to ensure students understand the difference.
Introduce It in an Engaging Way
I love using videos to grab my students’ attention. I don’t usually use anything too long, a quick video that’s only a couple of minutes long usually does the trick.
Here’s a short video I made specifically for introducing argumentative text to third and fourth graders.
Teach the Academic Vocabulary of Argumentative Text in Meaningful Ways
Anchor charts and interactive notebooks help kids digest and organize new information. These tools give the students a strong reference with the big ideas clearly laid out.
Make sure to include the author’s purpose in writing an argumentative text as well as its structure and characteristics. You can create a large anchor chart for the wall on chart paper or create interactive mini anchor charts in their reading notebooks.
I like to do both. That way we have a large reference up at all times and the students a personal reference at their fingertips.
Choose a High-Interest Text
Find an argumentative text that you know your students will be interested in. Have a lot of environmentalists? Choose something about climate change. Whatever their interests may be, lean into it.
Some popular topics are class pets, year-round school, and anything else that they encounter at school.
Take It Step-by-Step
Argumentative text can be a difficult genre and it’s new for our third graders, so take it step-by-step. Break it up as much as you need to. Go at their pace. And don’t be too alarmed by the amount of scaffolding you may need to do.
- Steps 1 – 3 walk you through how to recognize the structures and characteristics of an argumentative text and identify the author’s claim and intended audience with your students and could reasonably be completed in one to two days, depending on your students.
- Steps 4 – 7 dig deeper into analyzing and evaluating argumentative texts. I’d allow for a full day/lesson for each of these.
- Step 8 is for assessment. Depending on your schedule, this could be completed the same day as step 7, or could be assigned its own day.
1. Explore the Basic Structure and Characteristics
Understanding how an argumentative text is structured is extremely helpful in identifying the author’s claim. Read the text with your students all the way through. Then break down the structure for them and explain that you’re going to dive deeper into understanding each piece.
- Introduction – The author states or implies the claim.
- Body – The author supports the claim with reason, evidence, and facts.
- Conclusion – The author restates the claim.
2. Identify the Author’s Claim, Intended Audience, and Supporting Reasons
Use that same text, but dig a little deeper. This time, you’ll want to stop and find the main ideas of each paragraph in the text. This will help your students understand the author’s points.
Then guide them in identifying the author’s intended audience, claim and the reasons that he/she gives to support it. Be sure to have them highlight or underline text evidence to support their thinking.
Remember, the students will likely need to infer who the intended audience is from evidence found throughout the text.
3. Analyze the Structure of the Argumentative Text
Now that you have identified the author’s claim and the reasons given to support it, discuss how the body is organized.
- Does the author separate his/her reasons into different paragraphs? Why might that be?
- Does he/she give a counterargument?
- What else do the students notice about how the author supports his/her reasons?
4. Evaluate the Author’s Claim by Analyzing the Reasons
Once students have a basic understanding of the structure, you can take a deep dive into analyzing the reasons and supporting evidence.
- First, determine if the support given by the author is based on fact or opinion.
- Analyze how the author uses facts, evidence, and examples to support each reason.
- Then evaluate the author’s sources. Are they credible?
- Does the supporting evidence appear to be made up by the author?
- Did the author cite his/her sources? Discuss the importance of evaluating the author’s sources.
5. Evaluate and Compare Argumentative Texts with the Same Topic
I like using this day to solidify the importance of supporting evidence for the author’s claim. I intentionally choose a “bad example” to compare with the mentor text we used in the prior lessons.
We take this second text through steps 1 – 4, moving at a bit of a faster pace, and compare it to the mentor text. I then have the students compare the two articles with a partner or table group. We end the day by discussing which article we found to make a better argument and why we think so.
6. Student Practice
Have the students work with a partner or independently to identify the intended audience, author’s claim, and reason in another text. I like adding this practice to their interactive notebooks because it’s likely something they will want to refer back to later.
7. Evaluate and Compare Arguments Made in the Same Text
This makes great partner work as well. Although, depending on the level of your students, you may want to do it whole group.
This time, choose a text that contains opposing arguments on the same topic. First, read the text together and discuss how it presents both sides of the argument. Then have the students analyze the evidence the author gave to support each claim with a partner. Close the lesson by sharing what the students think of each argument and what characteristics made the argument stronger or weaker.
8. Assess Your Students’ Understanding
Now it’s time to give a formal assessment. Once complete, analyze what your students did and did not master to see if any reteaching will be necessary.
Get Everything You Need to Teach Argumentative Text Right Here
Finally. You can stop driving yourself crazy. Stop scouring the internet for resources and mentor texts. It’s all right here, done for you.
This 5-day Argumentative Text Unit will help you teach your students to recognize and identify the characteristics and structures of argumentative text (ie. the author’s claim, the intended audience, and the facts & evidence used to support the claim). Students will then analyze the characteristics & structures to evaluate the author’s claim and compare arguments made about the same topic. This argumentative text unit covers several components of your ELA instruction: read aloud, detailed reading lessons, vocabulary, and grammar (using mentor sentences). There is also a connection to writing with response to text and writing station prompts!
The Argumentative Text Interactive Notebook Pages are the perfect supplement for your instruction throughout the week and will serve as a great reference for your students!
Fact & Opinion Task Cards w/ Digital Options help your students practice distinguishing between the two, a skill that is critical in reading & analyzing argumentative text. The oral admin included with the digital options makes providing accommodations for struggling readers a breeze.