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Elements of an Effective Argument

Elements of an Effective Argument

Author: Brett Cease

 Today’s discussion lesson will focus primarily on building understanding for the following three academic language objectives within what makes an effective argument:

  • Students will understand the concept of a thesis statement and its importance in framing an argument (defined as the main point of an argument, which makes a claim).
  • Students will understand the importance of writing an argument with an audience in mind (defined as the population for whom the argument is intended for).
  • Students will understand what the importance of evidence for an argument and what kinds of evidence are more or less reliable (defined as resources that are used to support an argument).

·        In the end,  students will practice framing an argument of their own by writing down an outline that includes: their thesis statement, who their intended audience is, and their evidence.



Arguments fill each of our lives and surround us everywhere we turn.  

As developing citizens in a democratic society, our students are constantly consuming information and arguments that shape their beliefs.  It is up to the social studies teacher to be able to help our students distinguish effective from ineffective argumentation. It also our responsibility to provide the chance for students to practice creating framing their own arguments and to provide feedback. Finally, it is also important that educators help students understand that the concept of an argument is not necessarily correlated with negativity or even conflict.  Arguments on the most basic level are simply ways of organizing and conveying our thoughts/opinions/beliefs to one another.

As a result, this lesson intends to empower students to recognize the ubiquitous presence of argumentation and not to be intimidated about talking about multiple perspectives that may overlap or conflict with each other.  The larger goal is for students to begin to pay attention to key elements in arguments they encounter, and to put these elements into practice in their own discussions and expressions.

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Prezi Presentation: Elements of An Effective Argument

To incorporate Web 2.0 technology into this lesson, I have designed a Prezi presentation (if you haven't used Prezi for your own presentations, I thoroughly recommend it!).

To be taken to an interactive presentation for this topic click here.

Discussion Suggestions


Suggestions for holding the discussion:

With the Prezi loaded on the screen, focus the students’ attention by asking them to raise their hand if they have ever gotten into an argument.   Keep their hands raised if they’ve ever gotten into an argument with their care-givers or parents?  With their peers?  How did it feel?  What do you remember? Ask the students to think about these experiences and what was frustrating about them. 

What do you think an argument is?  (ask students to provide different examples)

The students will mainly discuss three topics related to arguments in today’s class:

1.    What are some examples you’ve experienced of an argument is unfocused or unclear?

Provide several examples of what an unfocused or unclear argument is. Then, to discuss this topic, have students participate in a think-pair-share format about their own experiences with unclear arguments. After students have discussed for five minutes introduce the concept of a thesis statement and ask elaborative interrogation questions like “why is a thesis statement important?” and “How would a thesis statement have changed your experiences you mentioned?”\

2.    Why is it important for an argument to have the right audience in mind?

Remain in a large group discussion setting and pose several examples of argument scenarios to students with the wrong audience in mind (i.e. preparing a formal academic paper full of big words for a kindergarten class, talking about the importance of owning a snake in front of people who have fears of reptiles, etc. ) Ask students to come up and share their own.  Then discuss the concept of audience and what should change in our arguments if we are to talk to the correct audience.

3.    What does it feel like when an argument uses unfair or illogical evidence to make its point?

Provide several examples of what unfair or illogical evidence in an argument is. To discuss this question students will break into small groups and talk about their own experiences.  Regroup after a couple of minutes and discuss what constitutes effective evidence, what makes evidence reliable and objective.  Students will be asked to provide examples of reliable and unreliable evidence sources.

To end the discussion, ask the students to begin wrapping up what we’ve talked about by reviewing our main points.  I will ask for different volunteers to recap what they think the important parts to remember about considering thesis statements, evidence, and audience were. Provide certain arguments that the students are familiar with from prior lessons and have them break down the argument into what the thesis statement was, what the audience was, and what was used for evidence. Ask students to make other connections from what was talked about in class today with what other topics and units that they have learned this year.

Rationale for lesson: This lesson originated in the middle of a unit on local government, where students prepared to participate in a classroom role-playing activity--a city council meeting hearing proposals for and against a proposed community center.

A presentation on the three elements of an effective argument was helpful to help frame how to create effective arguments for each of the multiple perspectives represented by the council and citizens in their scenario.

While this lesson does not need to be coupled with a problem-based learning scenario, beyond classroom discussion used to analyze and talk about what makes an effective argument, it is essential that students have the chance to practice writing out their own arguments--complete with a thesis statement, described audience, and evidence.

In the end, this lesson builds essential background knowledge for students about the elements of effective arguments through classroom discussion and small-group work.  

Links to Prior Knowledge and Experiences:  Students will hopefully come into this lesson with background knowledge in writing a basic essay in their language arts class and understanding the concept of a thesis statement.  Students will also need to connect with prior knowledge about arguments in their own lives and what the strengths and weaknesses of these arguments have been.

Vocabulary: Beyond the academic language focuses of thesis statement, evidence, and audience, the following concepts/terms will also be discussed in this lesson: making a claim, counterargument, critical reading, reference.

The following website from the Writing Center at University of North Carolina has been helpful in preparing this lesson and is recommended for students seeking out additional direction: