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For seven years, I was a writing teacher. Yes, I was certified to teach the full spectrum of English language arts—literature, grammar and usage, speech, drama, and so on—but my absolute favorite, the thing I loved doing the most, was teaching students how to write.
Most of the material on this site is directed at all teachers. I look for and put together resources that would appeal to any teacher who teaches any subject. That practice will continue for as long as I keep this up. But over the next year or so, I plan to also share more of what I know about teaching students to write. Although I know many of the people who visit here are not strictly English language arts teachers, my hope is that these posts will provide tons of value to those who are, and to those who teach all subjects, including writing.
So let’s begin with argumentative writing, or persuasive writing, as many of us used to call it. This overview will be most helpful to those who are new to teaching writing, or teachers who have not gotten good results with the approach you have taken up to now. I don’t claim to have the definitive answer on how to do this, but the method I share here worked pretty well for me, and it might do the same for you. If you are an experienced English language arts teacher, you probably already have a system for teaching this skill that you like. Then again, I’m always interested in how other people do the things I can already do; maybe you’re curious like that, too.
Before I start, I should note that what I describe in this post is a fairly formulaic style of essay writing. It’s not exactly the 5-paragraph essay, but it definitely builds on that model. I strongly believe students should be shown how to move past those kinds of structures into a style of writing that’s more natural and fitting to the task and audience, but I also think they should start with something that’s pretty clearly organized.
So here’s how I teach argumentative essay writing.
Step 1: Watch How It’s Done
One of the most effective ways to improve student writing is to show them mentor texts, examples of excellent writing within the genre students are about to attempt themselves. Ideally, this writing would come from real publications and not be fabricated by me in order to embody the form I’m looking for. (Although most experts on writing instruction employ some kind of mentor text study, the person I learned it from best was Katie Wood Ray in her book Study Driven). Since I want the writing to be high quality and the subject matter to be high interest, I might choose pieces like Jessica Lahey’s Students Who Lose Recess Are the Ones Who Need it Most and David Bulley’s School Suspensions Don’t Work.
I would have students read these texts, compare them, and find places where the authors used evidence to back up their assertions. I would ask students which author they feel did the best job of influencing the reader, and what suggestions they would make to improve the writing. I would also ask them to notice things like stories, facts and statistics, and other things the authors use to develop their ideas. Later, as students work on their own pieces, I would likely return to these pieces to show students how to execute certain writing moves.
Step 2: Informal Argument, Freestyle
Although many students might need more practice in writing an effective argument, many of them are excellent at arguing in person. To help them make this connection, I would have them do some informal debate on easy, high-interest topics. An activity like This or That (one of the classroom icebreakers I talked about last year) would be perfect here: I read a statement like “Women have the same opportunities in life as men.” Students who agree with the statement move to one side of the room, and those who disagree move to the other side. Then they take turns explaining why they are standing in that position. This ultimately looks a little bit like a debate, as students from either side tend to defend their position to those on the other side.
Every class of students I have ever had, from middle school to college, has loved loved LOVED this activity. It’s so simple, it gets them out of their seats, and for a unit on argument, it’s an easy way to get them thinking about how the art of argument is something they practice all the time.
Step 3: Informal Argument, Not so Freestyle
Once students have argued without the support of any kind of research or text, I would set up a second debate; this time with more structure and more time to research ahead of time. I would pose a different question, supply students with a few articles that would provide ammunition for either side, then give them time to read the articles and find the evidence they need.
Next, we’d have a Philosophical Chairs debate (learn about this in my discussion strategies post), which is very similar to “This or That,” except students use textual evidence to back up their points, and there are a few more rules. Here they are still doing verbal argument, but the experience should make them more likely to appreciate the value of evidence when trying to persuade.
Before leaving this step, I would have students transfer their thoughts from the discussion they just had into something that looks like the opening paragraph of a written argument: A statement of their point of view, plus three reasons to support that point of view. This lays the groundwork for what’s to come.
Step 4: Introduction of the Performance Assessment
Next I would show students their major assignment, the performance assessment that they will work on for the next few weeks. What does this look like? It’s generally a written prompt that describes the task, plus the rubric I will use to score their final product.
Anytime I give students a major writing assignment, I let them see these documents very early on. In my experience, I’ve found that students appreciate having a clear picture of what’s expected of them when beginning a writing assignment. At this time, I also show them a model of a piece of writing that meets the requirements of the assignment. Unlike the mentor texts we read on day 1, this sample would be something teacher-created (or an excellent student model from a previous year) to fit the parameters of the assignment.
Step 5: Building the Base
Before letting students loose to start working on their essays, I make sure they have a solid plan for writing. I would devote at least one more class period to having students consider their topic for the essay, drafting a thesis statement, and planning the main points of their essay in a graphic organizer.
I would also begin writing my own essay on a different topic. This has been my number one strategy for teaching students how to become better writers. Using a document camera or overhead projector, I start from scratch, thinking out loud and scribbling down my thoughts as they come. When students see how messy the process can be, it becomes less intimidating for them. They begin to understand how to take the thoughts that are stirring around in your head and turn them into something that makes sense in writing.
For some students, this early stage might take a few more days, and that’s fine: I would rather spend more time getting it right at the pre-writing stage than have a student go off willy-nilly, draft a full essay, then realize they need to start over. Meanwhile, students who have their plans in order will be allowed to move on to the next step.
Step 6: Writer’s Workshop
The next seven to ten days would be spent in writer’s workshop, where I would start class with a mini-lesson about a particular aspect of craft. I would show them how to choose credible, relevant evidence, how to skillfully weave evidence into an argument, how to consider the needs of an audience, and how to correctly cite sources. Once each mini-lesson was done, I would then give students the rest of the period to work independently on their writing. During this time, I would move around the room, helping students solve problems and offering feedback on whatever part of the piece they are working on. I would encourage students to share their work with peers and give feedback at all stages of the writing process.
If I wanted to make the unit even more student-centered, I would provide the mini-lessons in written or video format and let students work through them at their own pace, without me teaching them. (To learn more about this approach, read my post on self-paced learning).
As students begin to complete their essays, the mini-lessons would focus more on matters of style and usage. I almost never bother talking about spelling, punctuation, grammar, or usage until students have a draft that’s pretty close to done. Only then do we start fixing the smaller mistakes.
Step 7: Final Assessment
Finally, the finished essays are handed in for a grade. At this point, I’m pretty familiar with each student’s writing and have given them verbal (and sometimes written) feedback throughout the unit; that’s why I make the writer’s workshop phase last so long. I don’t really want students handing in work until they are pretty sure they’ve met the requirements to the best of their ability. I also don’t necessarily see “final copies” as final; if a student hands in an essay that’s still really lacking in some key areas, I will arrange to have that student revise it and resubmit for a higher grade.
So that’s it. If you haven’t had a lot of success teaching students to write persuasively, and if the approach outlined here is different from what you’ve been doing, give it a try. And let’s keep talking: Use the comments section below to share your techniques or ask questions about the most effective ways to teach argumentative writing.
Want this unit ready-made?
If you’re a writing teacher in grades 7-12 and you’d like a classroom-ready unit like the one described above, including mini-lessons, sample essays, and a library of high-interest online articles to use for gathering evidence, take a look at my Argumentative Writing unit. Just click on the image below and you’ll be taken to a page where you can read more and see a detailed preview of what’s included.
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Top 100 Evaluation Essay Topics for College Students
Keeping this short and sweet so we can arrive at the meat of the subject; always keep in mind that a good evaluation essay topic does exactly that; evaluate. Whether something is good or bad that is what your essay should be covering in the clearest way possible.
The Top 100
- Evaluate the recent season of your favorite sports team.
- Evaluate the soccer program in your home town.
- Evaluate the experience of playing lacrosse or Rugby in college.
- Evaluate the way that social media sites have impacted in person social relationships at your school.
- Evaluate a recent romantic movie for how it portrays modern romance.
- Evaluate digital textbooks and compare the experience of using them with using a traditional paper textbook.
- Delve into how different generation are using or interacting with technology.
- Evaluate and compare the ACT test vs. The SAT tests.
- In industrialized countries; to what extent is acid deposition making more problems?
- Evaluate the advertisement analysis: Mr. Clean and The Beautiful Germ Killer.
- In Health Care Reforms evaluate Clinton and Roosevelt’s reforms.
- Evaluate the issues that management firms face today and in the future.
- Evaluate the impact that European’s had on the North American Indian.
- Take the Role of the Civil War and evaluate its impact on the history and development of the USA.
- Evaluate the mousetrap powered car.
- Evaluate how self-driving cars will impact your daily life.
- Evaluate how designer children may impact our birthing choices in the future.
- Evaluate how llamas help detect biological weapons.
- Evaluate a weather forecast program for their accuracy in predicting weather conditions.
- Remember your favorite music from high school and evaluate it.
- Evaluate the role of the music wrote by Tchaikovsky in the movie Black Swan.
- Go to your local swimming pool or gym and write a review evaluating their services.
- Evaluate your favorite video game
- Evaluate the benefits of Sudoku in the elderly.
- Evaluate bomb sniffing bees.
- Evaluate cults and how they play a role in society throughout history.
- Evaluate intelligent design and how it plays a role in modern culture.
- Evaluate the health benefits of gaming.
- Evaluate ad slogans and how they encourage consumers.
- Evaluate the effects of sex on the brain.
- Evaluate the actions being taken to stop street gangs.
- Evaluate money launderings and its effects on the economy.
- Evaluate the human rights laws for Walmart in the past 10 years.
- Evaluate New York City’s policies on the homeless.
- Evaluate the quality of the Kindle Fire by Amazon.
- Evaluate the difference or experience of watching the game at a sports bar vs. at home.
- Take a channel like ESPN and evaluate the channels influence on viewers.
- Evaluate in internets importance in today’s fast paced society.
- Evaluate the future effects of global warming.
- Evaluate animal rights
- Look into the roles that women played during the American civil war.
- Examine how violence in the media affects the minds of children.
- Evaluate a single mother’s role in the upbringing of her children.
- Evaluate the cultural diversity of Europeans.
- Evaluate the cuisine of a foreign country.
- Evaluate the first job you’ve held.
- Look into the current education system in the U.S.
- Evaluate the structural integrity of your house. Is it an older home or newer modern home?
- Evaluate goat’s milk; is it healthier than cow’s milk? What are the health benefits?
- Evaluate the gnome of a mouse; what makes that gnome close to a human’s gnome and there for a better test subject when it comes to testing medicine.
- Evaluate your state’s divorce rates.
- Evaluate the current weight loss fad and what makes it so popular.
- Evaluate the factors that go into a custody battle and what makes one parent better to award custody of a child to over the other.
- Evaluate Bret Favre and what makes him a good athlete and should he have stayed with the Green bay Packers.
- Evaluate the rewards of antiquing; the ups and downs of a good find.
- Evaluate the modern interior decorating trends.
- Evaluate sleep disorders and their causes.
- Evaluate the idea of making a super soldier why or why not would it work out in the long run.
- Evaluate the meaning of O.C.D and the behaviors common to the disorder.
- Evaluate why some people are impulsive liars and what drives them to continue lying even when confronted about the lie.
- Evaluate the laws of gravity and how they play a part in everyday circumstances.
- Evaluate racial issues in France.
- Evaluate why losing the Earth’s natural resources is going to have a large impact on our quality of life in general.
- Evaluate how texting and email have made communication less personal.
- Evaluate the quality of advertising and how marketing affects ad services.
- Evaluate the effort of preserving old buildings for their historical aspects.
- Evaluate the laws in place to protect endangered species.
- Evaluate the usefulness of keeping zoo’s up and running.
- Evaluate the difference between generic meds and their originals; are they just as effective.
- Do using flavor enhancers in water make water better or are we making water unhealthy like sodas.
- Evaluate how green tea helps you with boosting your metabolism or does it?
- Evaluate the conditions and the usefulness of medical marijuana.
- Evaluate the risk factors of developing lung cancer.
- Evaluate the addictive ingredient in cigarettes.
- Evaluate the effects of drinking heavily in adulthood.
- Evaluate French wines and their differences over American or Italian wines.
- Evaluate how rebuilding Busch stadium has helped preserve or not preserve a legendary field in sports.
- Evaluate your favorite brand in clothing.
- Evaluate the auto industry and its evolution in the past decade.
- Evaluate how women’s clothing sizes vary depending on brand.
- Evaluate the factors that started the war in Iraq.
- Evaluate why much of our production of products is being outsourced to foreign countries like China.
- Evaluate the steps need to write a good product review.
- Evaluate Jar Jar Binks role in Star Wars Episode I.
- Evaluate the steps to creating a good evaluation essay.
- Evaluate the triggers of seasonal depression, what factors play a role in the onset of it.
- Evaluate the myth of the Holy Grail; what beliefs started its tale.
- Evaluate the differences between full flavor tobacco verses mental tobacco in cigarettes.
- Evaluate how photography has evolved over the last couple of decades.
- Evaluate why getting daily antioxidants is important for your health and well-being in the long run.
- Evaluate the evolution of music and how has music impacted the way we communicate artistically.
- Evaluate how home school could be seen as better than attending public schools.
- Evaluate the “Match Point” by Woody Allen.
- Evaluate the politics of Obama; how do they differ from previous presidents.
- Evaluate the criteria for someone to qualify to run for president of the United States.
- Evaluate the process for selecting a pope.
- Evaluate the invention of the refrigerator; what idea sparked this great modern day appliance.
- Should some plastics be made recyclable; evaluate what properties make good for recycling plastic.
- Evaluate what made skin creams popular and why are they necessary for usage by some people.
- Evaluate the factors that brought about the Salem Witch trials and other instances like it.
Finding a good topic idea for your evaluation essay should be the least of your worries and hopefully this very diverse top 100 list has given you much to work with and inspiration for even more topic ideas.