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The Art of Argument
and Persuasion

The Art of Argument and Persuasion

How it Works 

This set of lessons is part of what I try to give students experiences in understanding the forces that shape their ideas and opinions, and work in reshaping their arguments so that truth and reason are evident. 

The lessons work to raise student understanding of the elements of media in use today; newspaper, television, and internet. They analyze how different elements are used to influence different audience groups, and use both these elements of advertising, and traditional writing strategies for persuasive communication.

The lessons included here are the skeleton of a larger body of instruction, and suggestions and resources are included to expand into these larger themes of media literacy and of argument.


The lessons: The four lessons here represent the range I found useful. The possibilities are enormous, and there are extensive resources available on media literacy that can be used. I chose to weave elements of these themes into several months of work, often informally. I will note some of these informal supports within the lesson plan, and in the resources pages.

1. Our Opinions and Interests: TV talks and we listen?

In a previous unit in which we created our own videos, students watched TV programs and mapped out the timing and types of camera changes, and timing on a topic. (news shows preferred). 

Here they watch TV while trying to see relationships between the ads and the type of show. In addition, they do quick research online to see if there is a companion website, and whether advertisement their is the same or different.

2. Arguments, and reasoned arguments-

We first have some "fun" arguing, then adjusting our arguments so that people aren't mad, and some positive things start happening. Then the students step away from argument, and make cases for opinions and decisions, using paper airplane designs as a simulation for the kind of activity that companies and organizations like the Pentagon might use.

3. Social issues and opposing viewpoints

We used a topic that matches their 7th grade science studies in genetics, and students did online research followed by persuasive presentations of their own viewpoints based on their readings. (Other relevant topics listed in resources)

4.It pays to advertise-

Students create advertisements to persuade. This includes online research for information and graphical elements to repurpose for their ideas.

Technology Elements and prerequisites:

Online access is needed for two lessons, the television for at least one lesson, and software to edit graphics is very useful. In addition, digital cameras are excellent for students focusing their ad posters on issues and interests in the school and local community.

Learning Content Standards: These are California State Standards in Language Arts. However, as in the lesson on Social Issues (Pet Cloning?), you can select a topic that directly supports content areas. I've put a few of these links on the resources page.

Resources: Since you are already accessing this online, I expect you have your own teacher net skills, and areas of interest. These are a few of the areas I've found students can get interested in and deal with the issues at least at a meaningful introductory level.

 Links to samples: Instruction sheets that students got for these lessons, as well as some student samples that could be adapted to net viewing.

New Media is included both as part of the media analysis of television, but more importantly in the use of the internet to bring together different viewpoints on important and controversial social issues. (In the unit these range from the local issue of school uniforms, out to a larger social issue on cloning).

In addition, students combine media to create their own advertisements, and use the internet, scanners, and digital cameras.

For example, in the lesson on Issues and Persuasion:

Students will be able to read online resources, take notes concerning both author viewpoints and evidence, and the author's evidence of expertise in the topic. They will choose a viewpoint and support this in their writing with evidence. Students will be able to compare and contrast their chosen viewpoint with the opposing view, both in writing and in response to oral questions.


Time Needed-

Minimum 3 periods of 50 minutes, can extend to double that.


Persuasion Unit assessments

These lessons are part of a theme for the year. Most of the work is either formative, or assignments are graded as complete after classroom discussion. Lessons #1 & #2 are essentially templates, and I treat as thinking/practice lessons.

Lessons #3 & #4 involve more independent thinking and synthesizing of skills. I use a simple rubric for self and teacher assessment, combining the scores. (this is a common practice for projects in my class)

I strongly recommend that you consider using your own assessments that match your instructional goals, and the norms you have established in your class.

Rubric for lesson #3- Persuasive Writing and Speaking

Rubric for Lesson #4- Ad Creation


The California Language Arts standards for 6th and 7th grades emphasize persuasive skills in writing and speaking, as well the ability to use discrimination when reading and listening. The core standards addressed in this unit are:

Expository Critique

- Determine the adequacy and appropriateness of the evidence for an author's conclusions.

- Make reasonable assertions about a text through accurate, supporting citations.

- Note instances of unsupported inferences, fallacious reasoning, persuasion, and propaganda in text.

Writing Applications

-Write persuasive compositions:

 a. State a clear position on a proposition or proposal.

 b. Support the position with organized and relevant evidence.

 c. Anticipate and address reader concerns and counterarguments.

Listening and Speaking

- Support opinions with detailed evidence and with visual or media displays that use appropriate technology.

-Deliver persuasive presentations:

a. Provide a clear statement of the position.

b. Include relevant evidence.

c. Offer a logical sequence of information.

d. Engage the listener and foster acceptance of the proposition or proposal.

What you need 

Estimated number of class periods for students to complete this

project: (based on a 50 minute class period)

8-10 periods, plus some student work outside of class

Software or Materials Used:

New Media is included both as part of the media analysis of television, but more importantly in the use of the internet to bring together different viewpoints on important and controversial social issues. (In the unit these range from the local issue of school uniforms, out to a larger social issue on cloning).

In addition, students combine media to create their own advertisements, and use the internet, scanners, and digital cameras.


Persuasive, writing, persuasion, advertising, advertisement, media, media literacy, argument, opinion

The Students

The students involved in this project were 7th graders in a school where well over 80% of the students are English Language learners (Spanish). The particular class discussed were all Fully English Proficient. The unit is quite suitable for grades 6-12, with adaptations made for content of reading, and expectations of the student production.

Overall Value

People argue, and teenage years are especially rich times for strong opinions and arguments. The 7th grade is a great time to start learning how to understand and use the dynamics of reasoned argument and persuasion. The issues and complexity of expression can build after that.

Two elements that are hard to get in touch with for kids (all of us?) are:

1. What are my opinions, and why do I have them?

2. Why does somebody else have a different opinion?

This unit provides a basic structure, and many resources for expansion, to help young teens master the influences of media entering their lives, and to practice effective strategies for both argument analysis and effective use of of language and graphics to express both opinions and truths.


Subject Area:

Language Arts

Second Subject Area (if interdisciplinary):

Excellent opportunities for Science and Social Studies

Starting Grade Level:


Ending Grade Level:


Tips for the Teacher:

It is highly recommended that the teacher review some of the resources on media literacy.... inevitably excitement about the possibilities will be aroused. In addition, pre-plan the  integration of the unit with other language arts instructional units (this is the genre of persuasive writing, but expects some skills in summarization and expository writing) In addition, the lesson on Issues lends itself very well to a planned integration with science or social studies issues that the students will be studying.... take the opportunity and make the connection!


Finally, take time to spiral the unit into other instruction. It is not necessary to move through it in a block. These are basically "life skills" for the students, and are most useful when viewed as part of their development.

(for example, the lesson on airplanes and arguments was basically a response to the apparent need for these 7th graders to learn how to have a reasonable argument, as well as to add some physical fun to language class)

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Jeff Foote has been a science and English Language Development teacher at a jr. high school for 10 years. He administrated a FirstClass electronic bulletin board system (bbs) for science teachers and students. Science data, photos, student work samples and challenge
questions ran through the system. A key element was the ability to archive shared work. Since that participation, he's been a district and
county schools tech mentor for numerous years, state leadership team member for online science resources, and been directing staff
development projects in science, English Language development, and technology. Current projects include piloting LessonLab, online videotape analysis tool for teacher instruction,TQ2- a national e-mentoring pilot, and Beyond the Classroom, another NSF project helping
teachers integrate science, language, and technology standards into units of instruction.