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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Teaching our Students to Argue

It may seem that in this land where bullying has become a crime, we are trying to eliminate arguing from our classrooms.  On the contrary, it is more important than ever to bring arguing into the classroom and teach our students how to deal appropriately with different points of view.  Certainly we should not be leaving it up to the media to model arguing.  It is crucial that we not only model good arguing, but teach it as well.   The art of arguing incorporates many higher level thinking skills.  It is time for us to hold our own “rally to restore sanity” in our classrooms (to borrow from John Stewart) and teach our students civil discourse.    We need to take debate and persuasive writing out of isolation and practice them regularly in all content areas. 
Online discussions are a great way to learn the practice of “arguing” or persuasive writing.  I think it is important that we give our students a jump start with the rules of netiquette before they jump in.  Our students have been taught throughout their education many rules that apply to our classroom discussions (raise your hand, listen to others, be polite, etc).  Can the same be said for rules for online discussions (be polite, don’t use all caps, remember the person behind the avatar, etc)?  Unfortunately, our students often think that their internet spaces are places devoid of adults or rules.  We are increasingly finding that “arguments” and discussions that start out online are spilling over into our schools and classrooms.  We need to be proactive and teach them that althought they do not always have to agree, there are similar rules for online discussions that will result in polite and respectful conversations.
Modeling, practicing and monitoring online classroom discussions is a great place to start.  There are some great resources for online discussion rules like “Interact with Tact” from or “guidelines for discussion” or the “Dos and Don’ts of Online Student Communication from Collaborize Classroom.  This features great sentence openers for when students don’t agree, such as “Rebecca’s comment made me think about….” Or “Although Zach made a strong point that__________, I think….” Or “I respectfully disagree with Lawrence’s assertion….”  I have students use the SCAN tool from which offers rotating free lessons and has students role play different perspectives on hot topics such as “Should we allow students to bring cell phones to school?” to practice their persuasive writing and online netiquette skills.  It is a great way to get all students engaged in the discussion and practice their online communication skills. How do you teach the great art of arguing in your classroom?


  1. I think I mostly teach the art of arguing by modelling. I try to listen carefully to the contributions of students, respond with curiosity and not defensiveness or dogmatism, and, whenever possible, to ask, "So what does everyone else think?" I believe that when people know they will be heard, they are much less likely to act out. That said, not everyone is rational all the time, and if things become nasty, I shut them down. It's a tricky balance.

  2. I do think that the art of arguing or debate can be guided through thoughtful questions. I love that you ask for other's opinions because it so important that students understand other perspectives. Thanks so much for adding yours!