Thursday, February 5, 2015

Current Events as Springboard for Argument

Lately I have been gathering editorials and articles that relate to current events in order to expose my students to real world writing exemplars.
As teachers we struggle to find good writing examples to use as models in the classroom and we often come across... well... mostly substandard student written arguments about gum in school or some plea from a twelve year old to help save the dolphins. While these 'models'  can be good starting points ( I use them as non-examples for my students- what a good argument isn't), students don't often get to see that REAL argumentative writing happens every day for a variety of purposes and audiences. 
The best thing a teacher can do is pay attention to current events and then start digging for articles and editorials connected to these issues. Let students see that real people write about real issues every day. 
In this post, I will share some current events articles/videos/cartoons that I have found with teaching points that you can use in the classroom. 

The Measles

The vaccination/anti-vaccination debate has been waging and it has real implications for us all. 
In this blog post by Adam Frank, an astrophysics professor at the University of Rochester, he declares that what we ignore or disbelieve does not make it untrue or impossible. It is a higher level reading for many middle school students, but his message overall is clear. So is his tone. This is a great piece to use for the identification of tone. Have students highlight portions of the text that clearly indicate the writer's attitude. The fact that the writer is an author and astrophysics professor lends him ethos and his use of logic to explain- logos. Both rhetorical appeals can be discussed using this post. Other aspects that students might learn from this post include the use of anecdote to start the argument and how he ties it in again later in the piece for impact. And of course, simply identifying the writer's claim can be a great starting point for all students. 
Here is  a great 5 minute Video from CNN exploring the debate of vaccination- both sides are presented- one from a parent's POV against the vaccine and one from a doctor's point of view. It is a very understandable video overall to explore both sides of the issue and the doctor offers a nice counter-argument in respect to the mother's point of view. 
This Article from offers some nice counterarguments to the biggest issues as to why parents are refusing to vaccinate their children. 
Editorial Cartoons are also popping up (no pun intended) concerning the Measles Vaccine Debate and they offer a chance to explore an artist's tone/message. This editorial cartoon offers the chance to discuss if Disneyland is getting a bad rap in all this since reportedly the outbreak began there. And if you want to jaunt a bit further into the political arena,  This Editorial/Cartoon has strong tone, denouncing both Christie and Paul in their Measles vaccination opinions. 

Remember, ELA teachers, this topic is a nice co-teaching prospect for both Science and ELA (and even World History) teachers to get involved in a research/writing opportunity! 

Snow Days 

Ah, glorious snow days! Students and teachers alike long for them. But if you experienced a VERY long May last year due to an exorbitant number of snow days, you understand that everything has its limits. Indeed many school systems have also recognized this issue and have derived avenues in which to remedy the situation. From this issue, many editorials have been written- from angry parents demanding less snow days and demands to "quit wussifying" our kids to those simply exploring both sides of the "snow virtual learning day"- the online answer to not being in school. 
This article provides both sides of the virtual learning debate and is a great springboard for students to use as a text based prompt/debate source. The article clearly lays out the argument for and against virtual learning days, providing video and reading for each side. Besides looking at both sides to prepare for a debate or to use as a springboard for a student's own argument on the topic, the title is clever and the writer's bias slips out as he starts the "Arguments against" side of the article and again in his concluding statements. 
Another article exploring  virtual learning day options is likely very challenging for middle school and more appropriate for high school due to its language- but tone is rampant throughout the piece and a great model for the various ways a writer might imply his/her attitude (quotation marks around words, for example) The ending to this piece- use of short punchy sentences- is very effective and a great opportunity to discuss use of sentence length for impact. 
From this simple topic you can find a plethora of articles and editorials surrounding the issue like 
This one- clearly a vote for virtual learning days (although it does present a bit of the "other side" of the issue too.) And even your visual students can be addressed through editorial cartoons such as this one and This Cartoon showing the implications of a snow day and that dreaded make-up day. 

The important thing to keep in mind is that an entire article/editorial does not always have to be used in class. If you are teaching anecdote- use that portion as a model, etc. It is also important to keep in mind that video and editorial cartoons can supplement a student's understanding and make the overall topic more interesting within the classroom setting. 

Finally, another great place to find argument and counter-argument is in the comments section of a blog or article. If you can find those that are 'fit for school use' you can snapshot them to use for discussion. Is the person's argument sound? Are they really arguing in the true sense of the word (using fact/evidence to support their point of view) or are they just quarreling? Do they set up their argument trying to establish their ethos? Do they provide logos in support?  Here is just one sampling of a discussion in the comments section about video games and if exposure to these games causes youth to become violent: 

Use of Ethos- writer sets up argument with "As a teacher...." 

In the first comment near the end, the writer sets up ethos "As an Avid video game player...." and the bottom comment is a clear example of quarrelsome vs a sound argument.

Be on the lookout for all kinds of argument in our every day lives- whether current event editorials, articles that offer both sides of an issue, videos, editorial cartoons or even the comments section of a blog post or article, you can find many real world examples to use in the classroom. 

All photos from Creative Commons use on