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Common Core Standards: ELA

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading

Reading CCRA.R.8

While understanding a text’s point of view, content, and tone all help readers understand where the text is coming from, it’s only by picking apart the main ideas and arguments in a text that can tell readers whether the information is reliable.  (Those who particularly enjoy frequently wind up in law school, where they spend three years learning to do it even better and annoying all their friends in the process.)

This standard requires students heading into college and/or a career to be able to explain what a text is arguing, point out what evidence supports that reasoning and whether that evidence is any good, and whether the conclusions drawn from that evidence make sense.

Example 1

Big Black Horse and an Argument

So basically, explain the argument presented, point out the points, decide if the logic is legit, and evaluate whether the proof can pass for the individual claims and the argument as a whole. Yowza… that’s a tall order, but it can be done! This is one of those standards that asks students to think like writers in order to analyze a text as readers, so it’s also a great opportunity to pair up the reading and writing standards. Shmoop says, kill two birds with one stone whenever you can. Only don’t really kill any birds—that’s mean.

Building a sound argument is like building a delicious taco. Make no mistake; the intricate inner workings of a masterful taco are not to be trifled with. It’s all about the ingredients. The first layer of a taco is the meat, and the meat of any good argument is the author’s main ideas, points, or reasons. Just as a fully developed taco should include cheese, lettuce, sour cream, and tomatoes, the reasons in an argument should be fully developed with convincing evidence and explanations that connect facts with assumptions through a logical progression of ideas. All of this should be wrapped in a warm, preferably homemade thesis—that part of your taco that makes it recognizable as a taco that you can pick up and eat, rather than a heap of random ingredients. Our mouths are watering just thinking about it.

Example 2

Fake Plastic Thoughts

There are some basic terms helpful in understanding argumentation: claims, warrants, and data (also known as the Toulmin Model2).

  • Claims are the points being made in the argument. What position is this person taking in this argument? 
  • Data is the info, the facts, the proof. Where’s the proof? What details back up what the person is saying? 
  • Warrants—not just for arrests—this is the justification of how the author gets from point A to point B. How does that particular claim spring from that information? Where are they coming from?

Now, when evaluating claims, students have to determine if they are valid before they can evaluate the data and the warrants. Get ready for some technical mumbo jumbo; your students may want to hang onto something.

Syllogism is a term used to describe deductive reasoning, which is a type of argument. An argument is valid3 (or legit) if the syllogism is logical, not if it is backed by “true” statements.

For example:

  • Every student dances the tango (this is called the major premise).
  • Carebears are students (this is called the minor premise).
  • Therefore Carebears must dance the tango (conclusion).

You might notice that the facts in the first two statements are a little cray cray, but that’s okay because the conclusion logically follows. To assess if a statement is valid you only have to worry about the logic. If it isn’t logical then you can point it out as a fallacy, or WRONG! If the facts are nonsensical, then that is a matter of relevant evidence, a different kind of fallacy related to the data presented. A fallacy in your argument is like dog food in your taco. Gross.

Students, it is your job as a reader to search and destroy, be the Argument Terminator. Outline the argument and determine if there are any ingredients missing. No one wants a fallacious taco.

2 Weida, Stolley (2011). Organizing Your Argument. Retrieved February 28, 2011, from http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/588/03/

3 “Valid Arguments,” (2007). Philosophical Terms and Methods. Retrieved February 28, 2012, from http://www.jimpryor.net/teaching/vocab/validity.html

Quiz Questions

Here's an example of a quiz that could be used to test this standard.

Read the following argument for the Legalization of Marijuana and answer the questions that follow.

When asked if marijuana should be legalized, 18 year old Zack reportedly said, “That would be dope.” This controversial topic has been debated for decades with strong arguments on either side. However, the fact remains: the legalization of cannabis, or marijuana, would benefit the US economy and reduce crime. There is no doubt that millions of tax dollars are allocated toward the war on drugs in America. It is also true that most states are struggling with million dollar deficits. Therefore it makes economical sense that the legalization and taxing of marijuana would boost revenue for individual states and alleviate the financial problems.

There are many naysayers in the debate of legalization, claiming that there are harsh addictive properties with cannabis and that legalization would encourage teens to use it. These antiquated arguments are weak and unstable at best. Doctor Jan Gumbiner4, a psychologist and professor at the University of California explains that, “Compared to other substances, marijuana is not very addicting” (2010). She lists the percentages for addiction with users of other drugs, concluding that, “It is much harder to quit smoking cigarettes than it is to quit smoking pot,” (2010) cigarettes being one of four actually harmful substances listed. It is also no secret that almost every high school student tries it and some keep trying it well into adulthood, so the regulation of the drug may actually benefit the underage use cause.

According to Norm Stamper5, a former Seattle Police Officer, this would also “free that state’s police officers to concentrate on crimes that inflict the deepest fear, pain, and loss” (2010). Stamper, a keen advocate for the legalization of cannabis, also acknowledges in his article the economic benefits, stating that it is “the biggest cash crop” in twelve different states and that America as a whole generates a reported “$36 billion annually” (2010). The newest legislation in Washington also focuses on the legalization issue. Adam Cohen6, a professor at Yale’s School of Law, wrote, “Washington’s referendum would treat pot much like alcohol, so the sale of marijuana would be restricted to people over 21” (2012). It is a chronic misconception that weed is harmful, and we must hash out a joint agreement to see it legalized. With the country in financial crisis and the current criminalization of marijuana not able to dissuade young users, the benefits of legalization far outweigh the costs.

*Disclaimer: Don’t smoke weed…until it is legal and you are of proper age to do so.

Gumbiner, J. (2010). “Is Marijuana Addictive,” in The Teenage Mind. Retrieved February 28, 2012, from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-teenage-mind/201012/is-marijuana-addictive

Stamper, N. (2010). “Legalization Will Reduce Crime, Free Up Police Resources,” in Marijuana and Money: CNBC Special Report. Retrieved February 28, 2012, from http://www.cnbc.com/id/36201668/Legalization_-Will_Reduce_Crime_Free_Up_Police_Resources

Cohen, A. (2012). "Legal Recreational Marijuana: Not So Far Out,” in Time Ideas: Essential Insights. Great Debates. Informed Opinions. Retrieved February 28, 2012, from http://ideas.time.com/2012/02/06/legal-recreational-marijuana-not-so-far-out/

  1. What is the thesis or essential claim in this argument?

    Correct Answer:

    “However, the fact remains: the legalization of cannabis, or marijuana, would benefit the US economy in many aspects, as well as reduce crime.”

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (B); this thesis is stated in the first paragraph of the argument and represents the author’s central claim: Legalization is good for the economy and crime reduction. Option (A) is support for the assertion that the money generated from making pot legal would help state’s economical woes; it is not the central claim of the argument. Option (C) is just some fun word-play about pot. Option (D) is an acknowledgment of the other side of the argument from paragraph 2, so it also can’t be the main claim.

  2. Problem on Pot: Which statement best explains the assertions made within the argument?

    Correct Answer:

    The author asserts that marijuana should be legalized because it would lower assets such as officers and money being used to address the criminal activity, and the money gained from legal and taxed marijuana sales would boost the economy.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (C). This answer correctly identifies the points being addressed in paragraph one, and further supported in paragraphs two and three. Option (A) is not specific enough with the first two claims, and the third assertion listed is slightly misinterpreted. Option (B) is the opposite of the points being made, along with some random stuff. Random stuff=obviously wrong. Option (D) is the point made by Gumbiner and quoted by this author, so it’s supporting evidence, not the author’s assertions.

  3. Challenge from Cheech and Chong: Choose the option that best assesses the validity of the syllogism in paragraph one.

    Correct Answer:

    The logical conclusion of the reasoning follows soundly, however there is no evidence or data to justify the major and minor premises offered.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (B); it addresses all three statements made and points out the positive and negative aspects of the syllogism. Option (A) does not address the conclusion of the syllogism, therefore it cannot state whether it is valid or invalid. Option (C) is not correct; it is a general statement about the syllogism with no specific assessment made. Option (D) is not correct because there definitely is a syllogistic argument presented.

  4. Riddle on Reefer: What effect does the second paragraph have on the argument as a whole?

    Correct Answer:

    The second paragraph presents a counter-argument that is well known; the author offers support to refute this and connects it to the main assertions.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (A). This is an important step in argumentation—identifying the counterargument and refuting its assertions. In an argument, you’ve always got to be ready to block the opposition; don’t let them get a punch in. Option (B) is right in that it does offer an expert opinion; however, the presumed assertion is incorrect. Option (C) is wiggidy wack. Option (D) confuses several points made in the paragraph. Close reading, people!

  5. Question on Queen Ann’s Lace (we saved the classy one for last): Choose the answer that best explains the effectiveness of the outside sources from Gumbiner, Stamper, and Cohen respectively.

    Correct Answer:

    The sources offer sufficient information related to the author’s claims from experts on the subjects; however, the author’s connections between the data and the claims are weak.

    Answer Explanation:

    The correct answer is (B). The expert opinions are valid; however the author’s warrants are sparse as she moves quickly to a new topic before fully discussing the relevancy of the source information. Option (A) is incorrect because the psychologist, the police officer, and the law professor are all quoted on subjects within their scope of knowledge. Option (C) is a bit vicious and there is no way to prove it is out of context unless you took the time to look up each source article. Option (D) speaks more to structure than an explanation on effective use of quotes.

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