Middle school students may be good at arguing, but we still need to teach students to support claims, and these tips can help!
Isn’t it amazing how middle schoolers can argue about pretty much everything?
I don’t say that as a critique. Rather, I am in awe of their tenacity and passion.
However, I find it strange that this argumentative nature does not translate into their writing.
We spend a lot of time in middle school language arts teaching students about building sound arguments and using evidence to support claims. Still, despite their natural inclination to argue, these formal arguments stump many of them.
And THAT is why we spend so much time in middle school ELA discussing the support claims and writing good thesis statements.
Today, I want to talk about how I support my students as we learn about supporting claims and strengthening our writing.
Unpacking the Standard
Unpacking the standards is incredibly important for any standards-aligned classroom. By unpacking the standards, we can focus on the specific learning targets that direct our students throughout their learning. Learn my 4 step process for unpacking the standards in this post.
The writing standard that focuses on supporting claims is W1.
Once we know the standard, we can then begin unpacking the standard by identifying the learning targets that will drive our instruction.
For this standard, these are the learning targets I focus on.
- I can introduce claim(s), acknowledge alternate or opposing claims, and support the claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, using accurate, credible sources, and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.
- I can organize the reasons and evidence logically and provide an introduction and concluding statement that follows and supports the argument presented.
- I can use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among claim(s), reasons, and evidence, as well as establish and maintain a formal style.
By outlining these specific learning targets, we can then create a game plan for moving forward thoughtfully toward mastery of this standard.
Teach Students to Support Claims: Start with a Thesis or Claim
To begin supporting claims, students need to have a claim. In language arts, we often call this the thesis.
When I teach students to write a thesis, we start with an “I believe” statement. By starting with an “I believe” statement, students are less likely to get stuck in analysis paralysis by trying to find the ‘right words’ that make their statement sound ‘professional enough.’ Don’t let your students get too caught up on wordy thesis statements or making statements sound professional. The thesis needs to be clear. That’s pretty much it.
3-Steps to Writing an Argumentative Thesis
- Write an “I Believe” statement
- Write at least 3 supporting points
- Drop the “I Believe” and combine everything left into one statement.
In our 7th-grade W1 Standards-Based Resource, students use thesis statement charts to practice writing these statements. Students then practice writing the strongest thesis statement in a small group activity later on in the unit. Click the image below to take a closer look at the resource.
The Role of Research
A major part of teaching students to support claims comes through doing good research.
When we look back at the learning targets we identified earlier, we see that under #1, students are expected to provide “relevant support” using “accurate, credible resources.”
Teaching students to research and find support that is accurate has never been harder since anyone can make a website or purchase a domain.
Within our 7th-grade W1 resource, we give students a checklist to work from when determining the site’s credibility. This handout gives them some questions to ask and details to look for to help them make a judgment about a site’s credibility.
To make sure students understand each item on the checklist, I’ve found it helpful to pick a topic and review some of the sources we find on the topic. We use the checklist as a guide, and I walk students through my process for determining the strength of a source.
Fact vs. Opinion
Another great way to teach students to support claims is by discussing facts and opinions and the strength of each type of statement.
Here are some questions we discuss and consider as we talk about facts and opinions.
- Is it possible for a fact to not be good supporting evidence for a claim?
- Is it possible for an opinion to be stronger than a fact?
- In what situations would that be possible?
- Where do we go to find facts?
- How does a theory or idea become fact? Can something ‘become’ a fact?
- Whose opinions matter?
- Whose opinions don’t matter?
- What does all of this have to do with finding good support for an argument?
I recommend doing a Socratic-style seminar or small group discussion using the above questions as a guide. Thinking through and coming up with examples for these different situations will prepare students for encountering and picking through fact and opinion statements while researching a topic.
When Support ‘Works’ but It’s NOT GREAT
When we teach students to support claims, we are really teaching them about logically considering the evidence that supports an argument. We want students to dig through the evidence to find the pieces that are the strongest.
It is possible for certain evidence to work, but not be a great supporting detail. Give your students some time to play around with this concept.
The more time students spend finding multiple examples of support for a topic and then judging that support for quality, the stronger writers and thinkers they will become.
Our students are often looking for the quickest way to complete a task, and it is not uncommon for them to just try to ‘get it done’ when working on a writing assignment. If you really want to teach students to support claims well, then you have to give them the time and space to slow down.
In order to improve, give students honest feedback on their choices, and don’t hold back. If support is lacking, tell them! If they need to do more research on a specific topic, tell them, but then give them the time to do the research to improve their writing.
Our writing practice in the classroom cannot be just about completing a writing assignment, it has to be about writing well!
Hopefully, you’ve found this post helpful as you consider the different steps you can take to teach students to support claims when writing.
If you are looking for a resource that will take you all the way through the W1 standard from thesis to word choice, then look no further!
I hope you find it super helpful as your students work on mastering the W1 standard for 7th grade!