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Drawing students' attention to the logical steps involved in an argument can sharpen their awareness of how well arguments are actually constructed. In this activity, you break an assertion or conclusion down into its logical components as described by Toulmin's classic model of argument.
On the board or overhead, write a statement from an article or book. Next, diagram the following three essential components of an argument:
At first, this process can seem strange to students, so start with a simple argument that you diagram yourself and then try a more complex one in collaboration with the students.
From a Text:
"Teachers should do more than just lecture. Our studies show that students can do a passable job memorizing facts delivered in a lecture, but they learn very little about how to use the material in any meaningful way."
The Argument Diagrammed:
Claim: Teachers should do more than just lecture.
Unstated Warrant of Principle: It is better for students to be able to use the material in a meaningful way than just memorize them
Grounds/Evidence: Our studies show students can do a passable job memorizing facts delivered in a lecture, but they learn very little about how to use the material in any meaningful way
Because this can be a strange experience for students at first, it is best to (1) draw the arguments visually on the board or overhead and (2) make an effort to get everyone involved by using something like a Think-Pair-Share to increase the level of social engagement.
While the Claim, Grounds, and Warrant are considered the essential elements of an argument in Toulmin's model, there are additional elements which can appear within an argument and it can be helpful to graph them. Further information on Toulmin's model can be found here.
We all want students to carry our teachings into their lives. Often, however, we must make our intentions very plain for students to understand that an assignment will equip them with skills and empower them, and is not an arbitrary hoop through which they must jump.
For this reason, frame each activity using these four steps: