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Teaching Argument Writing Using the Toulmin Model

NNWP ISI 2012 Betty Tuso McQueen High School


Essential Question: How can I teach the Toulmin model of argumentation in a way that makes the model accessible for my high school level language arts students? Focusing Standard: 1. Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence. a. Introduce claim(s) and organize the reasons and evidence clearly. b. Support claim(s) with clear reasons and relevant evidence, using credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text. More precisely, a teacher of a grade 12 ELA class might expect her students to do the following when writing an argument paper: • introduce a precise, knowledgeable claim. • establish the significance of the claim, distinguishing the claim from an alternate or opposing claim. • create an organization that logically sequences claim, counterclaims, reasons, and evidence. • develop the claim and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both. • develop the claim in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases. • use words, phrases, and clauses as well as varied syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim and counterclaims. • provide a concluding statement that follows from and supports the argument presented. • establish and maintains a formal style and objective tone. • demonstrate good command of the conventions of standard written English (with occasional errors that do not interfere materially with the underlying message). Research Base/Literature Review Karen Lunsford, in her article, “Contextualizing Toulmin’s model in the writing classroom: A case study,” reflects on the fact that although Toulmin models of argumentation are pervasive in composition textbooks, most teachers do not teach this model to their students. So, she decided to see if this model was helpful. Her study was done at a University summer writing camp for high school students. Her conclusion was that the Toulmin model is difficult to teach, but worth the effort. What is the Toulmin model of argumentation? 1. Claim: the position or claim being argued for; the conclusion of the argument. 2. Grounds: reasons or supporting evidence that bolster the claim. 3. Warrant: the principle, provision or chain of reasoning that connects the grounds/reason to the claim. 4. Backing: support, justification, reasons to back up the warrant. 5. Rebuttal/Reservation: exceptions to the claim; description and rebuttal of counter-examples and counter-arguments. 6. Qualification: specification of limits to claim, warrant and backing. The degree of conditionality asserted. Toulmin’s model, according to Lunsford, is based on dependence on contexts. The notion is that statements are not frozen utterances, but rather they are made at particular times and in particular situation, and they have to be understood and assessed with one eye always on context. In other words, the Toulmin model should not be seen as rigid. Her advice for the classroom teacher trying to teach the Toulmin model, is to adapt Toulmin as needed for each writing assignment.


Supporting Materials There are several short texts that are a great beginning to teaching the Toulmin model of argumentation. These texts give students and teachers an opportunity to identify and discuss the components of the Toulmin model: Claim, Grounds, Warrant, Backing, Rebuttal/Reservation, Qualification. Read through each text first. Then go back through the text looking for the five components. Are all five there? The idea is to get the students to see how authors use the Toulmin model to make effective arguments.

Text 1 Background Information --from Lend Me Your Ears: Great Speeches in History, Selected and Introduced by William Safire. Introduction: Prohibition of alcoholic beverages was still a hot issue in Mississippi in 1948, long after most of the rest of the nation had retired the controversy with repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. Noah S. (“Soggy”) Sweat (the nickname was short for “Sorghum Top,” after the tassel atop sugarcane) was running for state representative in Alcorn County, and came up with an ingenious way of evading the issue: he made fun of the way it made other politicians squirm. He won, serving later as prosecutor and finally as judge of the First Judicial District in the 1970’s He copyrighted his “if by whisky” speech in 1952 because so many other political figures were using it without attribution. It was written to satirize the fine art of fence straddling, and should be delivered with a straight face above a firm jaw.

The Whiskey Speech Delivered by the late Noah S, “Soggy” Sweat, Jr., former Mississippi legislator, lawyer and judge, in 1952 when the Mississippi Legislature was considering legalizing liquor. “My friends, I had not intended to discuss this controversial subject at this particular time. However, I want you to know that I do not shun controversy. On the contrary, I will take a stand on any issue at any time, regardless of how fraught with controversy it might be. You have asked me how I feel about whiskey. All right, here is how I feel about whiskey. If when you say whiskey, you mean the devil’s brew, the poison scourge, the bloody monster that defiles innocence, dethrones reason, destroys the home, creates misery and poverty, yea, literally takes the bread from the mouths of little children; if you mean the evil drink that topples the Christian man and woman from the pinnacle of righteous, gracious living into the bottomless pit of degradation and despair and shame and helplessness and hopelessness – then certainly I am against it. But if, when you say whiskey, you mean the oil of conversation, the philosophic wine, the ale that is consumed when good fellows get together, that puts a song in their hearts and laughter on their lips and the warm glow of contentment in their eyes; if you mean Christmas cheer; if you mean the stimulating drink that puts the spring in the old gentleman’s step on a frosty, crispy morning; if you mean the drink which enables a man to magnify his joy and his happiness and to forget, if only for a little while, life’s great tragedies and heartaches and sorrows; if you mean the drink the sale of which pours into our treasuries untold millions of dollars which are used to provide tender care for our little crippled children, our blind, our deaf, our pitiful aged and infirm, to build highways and hospitals and schools, then certainly I am for it. This is my stand, and I will not compromise.” Students enjoy reading this speech, finding the Toulmin components, discussing the author’s fence straddling, and writing imitative speeches of their own.


Text 2 Background Information The following letters constitute the complete correspondence between an executive of the Coca-Cola company and a representative of Grove Press. Letter 1 March 25, 1970 Mr. R. W. Seaver Executive Vice President Grove Press, Inc. 214 Mercer Street New York, New York 10012 Dear Mr. Seaver: Several people have called to our attention your advertisement for Diary of a Harlem Schoolteacher by Jim Haskins, which appeared in the New York Times March 3, 1970. The theme of the ad is “This book is like a weapon . . . it’s the real thing.” Since our company has made use of “It’s the Real Thing” to advertise Coca-Cola long prior to the publication of the book, we are writing to ask you to stop using this theme or slogan in connection with the book. We believe you will agree that it is undesirable for our companies to make simultaneous use of “the real thing” in connection with our respective products. There will always be likelihood of confusion as to the source or sponsorship of the goods, and the use by such prominent companies would dilute the distinctiveness of the trade slogan and diminish its effectiveness and value as an advertising and merchandising tool. “It’s the Real Thing” was first used in advertising for Coca-Cola over twenty-seven years ago to refer to our product. We first used it in print advertising in 1942 and extended it to outdoor advertising, including painted walls—some of which are still displayed throughout the country. The line has appeared in advertising for Coca-Cola during succeeding years. For example, in 1954 we used “There’s this about Coke—You Can’t Beat the Real Thing” in national advertising. We resumed national use of “It’s the Real Thing” in the summer of 1969 and it is our main thrust for 1970. Please excuse my writing so fully, but I wanted to explain why we feel it necessary to ask you and your associates to use another line to advertise Mr. Haskins’ book. We appreciate your cooperation and your assurance that you will discontinue the use of “It’s the real thing.” Sincerely, Ira C. Herbert


Letter 2 Mr. Ira C Herbert March 31, 1970 Coca-Cola USA P.O. Drawer 1734 Atlanta, Georgia 30301 Dear Mr. Herbert: Thank you for your letter of March 25th, which has just reached me, doubtless because of the mail strike. We note with sympathy your feeling that you have a proprietary interest in the phrase “It's the real thing,” and I can fully understand that the public might be confused by our use of the expression, and mistake a book by a Harlem schoolteacher for a six-pack of Coca-Cola. Accordingly, we have instructed all our salesmen to notify bookstores that whenever a customer comes in and asks for a copy of Diary of a Harlem Schoolteacher they should request the sales personnel to make sure that what the customer wants is the book, rather than a Coke. This, we think, should protect your interest and in no way harm ours. We would certainly not want to dilute the distinctiveness of your trade slogan nor diminish its effectiveness as an advertising and merchandising tool, but it did not occur to us that since the slogan is so closely identified with your product, those who read our ad may well tend to go out and buy a Coke rather than our book. We have discussed this problem in an executive committee meeting, and by a vote of seven to six decided that, even if this were the case, we would be happy to give Coke the residual benefit of our advertising. Problems not unsimilar to the ones you raise in your letter have occurred to us in the past. You may recall that we published Games People Play which became one of the biggest nonfiction best-sellers of all time, and spawned conscious imitations (Games Children Play, Games Psychiatrists Play, Games Ministers Play, etc.). I am sure you will agree that this posed a far more direct and deadly threat to both the author and ourselves than our use of “It's the real thing.” Further, Games People Play has become part of our language, and one sees it constantly in advertising, as a newspaper headline, etc. The same is true of another book which we published six or seven years ago, One Hundred Dollar Misunderstanding. Given our strong sentiments concerning the First Amendment, we will defend to the death your right to use “It's the real thing” in any advertising you care to. We would hope you would do the same for us, especially when no one here in our advertising agency, I am sorry to say, realized that you owned the phrase. We were merely quoting in our ads Peter S. Prescott's review of Diary of a Harlem Schoolteacher in Look which begins “Diary of a Harlem Schoolteacher is the real thing, a short, spare, honest book which will, I suspect, be read a generation hence as a classic....” With all best wishes, Sincerely yours, Richard Seaver


Before I ask students to write an argument essay using the Toulmin model, I try to get them thinking about all sides of an issue by using the Four Corners teaching strategy. Four Corners Teaching Strategy Published on Mar. 9th, 2011 by Cara Bradley and Eric Green Description of the four corners teaching strategy The four corners strategy is a cooperative teaching and learning strategy that inspires students to take part in group activities. It is most suitably used when students are lethargic and need some meaningful physical movement in order to refocus (Walqui 2007). This teaching strategy helps to develop listening, verbal communication, critical thinking, and decision-making skills in the classroom context. It can be used to buttress course content, clarify student viewpoints, and develop an understanding of differences in values and opinions. Not only does it stimulate students to take part in activities by making decisions, it also encourages them to cognitively justify their decisions (Muskingum 2010). Implications of using this strategy in higher education The four corners teaching strategy encourages conversation which boosts higher level thinking. It facilitates student learning by allowing them reflect on course material and communicate their knowledge and understanding of a topic. As a cooperative teaching and learning strategy, it presents an opportunity for students to review, critique, reflect on, and appraise opinions. Students will have the chance to engage in meaningful dialogue with others who have these same or differing viewpoints. They not only acquire and build on previous knowledge, but also develop their presentation skills. In addition, tired students are re-energized in a four corners classroom. Examples of how this strategy is being used in teaching/learning environments The four corners cooperative teaching strategy is a forced-choice activity that can be employed in a wide range of disciplines. Below is an example of how it could be used in your classroom: In a four corners classroom, the instructor thinks of four or more options concerning a particularly controversial topic. The instructor labels the four corners of the classroom with these options. For example, the options could range from strongly agree, agree, disagree, and strongly disagree. The instructor hands out 3Ă—5 cards to each student and asks them to jot down their choice on one side of the card and, when asked, to read out their choice. After making their choice, students will be required to write out the reasons for their choice on the other side of the card. Students could be allowed four or five minutes to do so. The instructor then asks them to gather in the corner of the room that corresponds to their choice. In each corner, students form groups of three or four each, to discuss the reasons for selecting a particular choice. After two or three minutes of discussion, students could be randomly called on one at a time to give simple, one sentence statements supporting their choice. Students return to their seats and the class resumes.


Research findings on the impact and effectiveness of four corners teaching strategy A growing body of literature classifies the four corners strategy as a cooperative teaching and learning strategy that motivates students and increases student retention by creating opportunities for students to see, hear, say and do. Malcolm Knowles asserted that learning is most effective when it involves practicality, relevance, respect, etc. Instructors who understand and accept these guiding principles will greatly enhance the learning experience of their students (Knowles, 1990). Furthermore, research has shown that individuals retain about twenty percent (20%) of what they hear, thirty percent (30%) of what they see, fifty percent (50%) of what they see and hear, seventy percent (70%) of what they see, hear, and say, ninety percent (90%) of what they see, hear, say, and do (Arnold et al. 1991). The four corners strategy, by prompting all these types of engagement, is therefore a highly effective teaching strategy. I think of this strategy as part of the pre-writing process when I teach argument writing. It gives students an opportunity to hear many sides of an issue and the discussion allows them to evaluate Claim, Grounds, Warrant, Backing, Rebuttal/Reservation, and Qualification. It is an important strategy that should not be skipped when teaching argument writing. Next, we write together. I begin with the simplest example of the Toulmin model to demonstrate the process. I learned about this strategy from an AP English Language and Composition Workshop “Because it is raining, I should probably take my umbrella, since it will keep my head dry because it is made of waterproof material , unless, of course, there is a hole in it.” Demonstrating support for a claim. “Because it is raining, I should take my umbrella,” Warrant. “since it will keep me dry.” Backing. “that the material is waterproof,” Reservation. “unless there is a hole in it.”

Students then work with a partner to write their own simple Toulmin arguments. It may be helpful to use the following sentence construction: “Because _________________, therefore, ______________, since _______________, on account of _________________.

It is essential to point out to students that Toulmin analysis of argument is audience–centered, rather than simply logical. This can best be demonstrated by using political cartoons for analysis. These cartoons from The New Yorker magazine serve as examples of students needing to infer the claim. In addition, students must realize the range of assumptions and knowledge that may exist within a single audience. Because the warrants involved in cartoons are not as obvious, students pick up on different possible warrants. Using Toulmin analysis of argument to discover the humor behind a cartoon is a way for students to enter into the conversation about what makes arguments work. It is likely that when examining a cartoon some students will laugh and others will say, “I don’t get it.”


Obviously, Toulmin argument can be very useful to students in both argument analysis and argument creation. It enables students to understand the nature of sophisticated arguments. As teachers begin to use more argument writing in the classroom there are three books that I recommend for both teacher and student use. The first book is They Say / I Say by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein. In this small text can be found various writing templates that illustrate the key rhetorical moves involved in critical thinking. The second book is Everything’s an Argument by Andrea Lunsford, John Ruszkiewicz and Keith Walters. This book uses text, visuals, and examples to teach the analysis of argument. Both of the first two books are user friendly for students. The third book, Patterns for College Writing by Laurie Kirszner and Stephen Mandell is a bit more difficult for the high school student but valuable for teachers because of the extensive readings and writing assignments that follow the readings. In my own teaching I have learned the importance of modeling the process of constructing written arguments and analyzing written arguments. Teaching students to write arguments requires time to think, discuss, think some more and discuss some more. I often write with my students and think out loud so they can understand the process and then we write a paper together before the students attempt their own compositions. Samples of argument papers are posted on my writing board for students to peruse. Most ELA teachers have only a limited background in debate, and thus they may need a tutorial in understanding the Toulmin model. My recommendation is to use the AP web site for Language and Composition. This site has a free article called Special Focus: Writing Persuasively which walks the teacher through the entire Toulmin model. It contains teacher directions, student samples, explanations and graphics. I refer to it often.


Teaching Argument Writing Using the Toulmin Model  

This booklet offers strategies for the high school ELA teacher who will be teaching argument writing which is part of the Common Core State...

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