In this language arts unit, students learn how to “argue on paper” using a fictional case about a school dress code rule against band t-shirts. The lessons take them through the process of writing two persuasive essays: one supporting the rule and one opposing it. After the essays, we suggest having your class play the game Supreme Decision to see how these arguments relate to issues of freedom of speech in schools. Supreme Decision is an excellent fit with the language arts classroom because it requires reading comprehension and higher-order thinking skills in the application of rules and evaluation of arguments.
Prepare students for persuasive writing by introducing them to the concept of making an argument. Students discover there’s a difference between “arguing” and making an argument in support of a position, and that making an argument is a learned skill that doesn’t depend on how you feel about an issue.
Students meet Ben Brewer and find out what happened the day he decided to wear his favorite band t-shirt to school in violation of a new dress code rule. Students read a summary of a Supreme Court case to figure out the “rule” that applies to Ben’s problem. This lesson lays the groundwork for students to write two short persuasive essays—one arguing each side of the issue.
In order to build arguments for their essays, students examine evidence about whether band t-shirts were disruptive at Ben’s school. Students think critically to filter out evidence for and against each position.
Students begin to organize their arguments and evidence both for and against the rule banning band t-shirts. Students learn the necessity of clear organization, generate main and supporting arguments, and create idea webs to organize the evidence they gathered in the last lesson.
Students meet “Yabbut Rabbit” and learn how to flesh out the support for their arguments by developing counterargument. Using the technique they learn in this lesson, students add arguments to their idea webs.
Wrap up the pre-writing process by showing students how to create an outline. Students organize the evidence and arguments on their idea webs into an outline that acts as a road map for their essay. This lesson teaches them to start their outlines from the middle, then shows them how to add information for the introduction and conclusion.
As a precursor to writing a rough draft, students learn that you can’t ignore evidence for the other side of an argument. Students learn how to use complex sentences to minimize or emphasize evidence when they argue. This lesson may not take an entire class period, so you may want to combine it with your own sentence-writing exercises or with another lesson.
Students make direct connections between the format of an outline and the organization in an essay. Using side-by-side examples, students see how the outline translates into a written product. They also see examples of complex sentences in action. At the end of this lesson, students begin their rough drafts.