Applying the Elements of Argument

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In our textbook we provide readings to help students understand the key terms of argumentation. We try to keep the readings as up to date as possible. We can predict what some of the hot button issues will be over the life of each edition of the book, but no textbook can be as up to date as today’s headlines in the newspaper, on television, or online. Applying the terminology of argumentation to current events makes its relevance more apparent to students. Almost any issue in the headlines can become a lesson in applying the terms claim, support, and assumption. One obvious example currently in the news recently is DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

How does a current controversy like that over DACA become a lesson in argumentation? Here are some suggestions.

  1. Ask your students to come up with a claim of fact, a claim of value, and a claim of policy about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

    Examples: Claim of fact—In most cases, the so-called Dreamers would be going back to a country that they cannot even remember.

    Claim of value—It is unfair to deny children brought to this country by parents who entered illegally the hope offered them by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

    Claim of policy—DACA should be revoked. (or should not)

                           Children of illegal immigrants should not be punished for the actions of their parents.

  2. Discuss some of their examples as a class or in small groups and then as a class. Discuss why some examples would make good thesis statements for argumentative writing and others wouldn’t. For example, this is a statement of fact but would not need to be developed in an essay: DACA was established by the Obama administration in 2012. From the the list above, "In most cases, the so-called Dreamers would be going back to a country that they cannot even remember." is also a claim of fact that does not make a good thesis statement. Other students do not have to agree with a statement to understand whether or not it is the type of statement that can serve as the thesis for argumentative writing.
  3. You can then ask the students to discuss what types of support would be used in arguing in writing about some of the examples. Primary evidence would start, of course, with knowing exactly what DACA is and what it does. Factual support would include such things as statistics about how many young people would be affected by revoking DACA. Remember that support goes beyond factual information to include claims to needs and values. Why do some Americans feel threatened by the existence of DACA, for instance? (appeal to the need for job security, for example) Why do others feel so strongly that these young people who were indeed brought into the country illegally should be allowed to remain here? (appeal to the value of diversity)
  4. Discussing appeals to needs and values inevitably leads to discussing assumptions. Ask your students what assumptions a person would need to make to accept that DACA should be revoked. They might be assuming, for example, that anyone entering the US illegally should be deported no matter what. Those arguing that it should not be revoked may assume that children should not be held accountable for illegal acts by their parents.

Image Source: "Los Angeles March for Immigrant Rights" by Molly Adams on Flickr 9/11/17 via Creative Commons 2.0 license.

About the Author
Donna Haisty Winchell directed the first-year writing program and codirected Digital Portfolio Institutes at Clemson University before her retirement in 2008. She edited several freshman writing anthologies and continues to write about argumentative writing and about fiction by African-American women. She is the author of The Elements of Argument and The Structure of Argument with Annette T. Rottenberg.