© 2015 Shmoop University, Inc. All rights reserved.

Common Core Standards: ELA - Literacy

Grade 11-12

Writing WHST.11-12.1

Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content.

  • Introduce precise, knowledgeable claim(s), establish the significance of the claims(s) distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that logically sequences the claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
    • At the 11th and 12th grade level, this point emphasizes the use of knowledgeable claims as a thesis statement and the ability to establish that those claims are significant or important. In other words, students need to be working with higher-stakes material at this level.
  • Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant data and evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both claim(s) and counterclaims in a discipline-appropriate form that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.
    • This point asks students to be fair and to understand and develop all sides of their argument thoroughly. By 11th and 12th grade, students should be reaching for greater depth of development in their ideas. A fair and thorough argument is one in which the writer makes a case for his/her claim while acknowledging all the facts, limitations, and counterarguments.
    • The second part of this point is about audience awareness. Students must know to whom they are making this argument, and they need to develop their essay in a manner that educates the audience when needed and that shows awareness of the audience’s primary concerns.
  • Use words, phrases, and clauses as well as varied syntax to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
    • This point asks students to use effective transition words and phrases as well as nuanced syntax to structure and connect their ideas within and between paragraphs. By 11th and 12th grade, students should be able to connect their thinking clearly while also attending to the fluency and rhythm of their writing.
    • Here are some examples of transitions and their purposes:
      • To show cause/effect relationships – as a result, therefore, consequently
      • Addition of ideas – additionally, furthermore, equally important
      • To give an example – for example, for instance, in fact
      • Comparison – similarly, likewise, in the same way
      • Contrast – however, in contrast, on the other hand, 
      • To summarize or conclude – in conclusion, therefore, in other words
  • Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
    • This point is all about genre and style. Students need to be aware of the genre expectations for the type of writing task and the discipline or field in which they are writing. These expectations might govern the type of research that’s appropriate, the citation style, document design, and tone of the writing.
  • Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from or supports the argument presented.
    • This one is pretty obvious; students need a strong conclusion to end their argument. They need to reiterate their central claim and drive home the call to action or belief that is the purpose of their writing.

Set the Stage

Let Shmoop bottom-line this for you: Students need to write effective argument papers on discipline-specific topics. The bullet points just get specific about the skills needed to write an effective argument.

Teach With Shmoop

Tag! You're it.

The links in this section will take you straight to the standard-aligned assignments tagged in Shmoop's teaching guides.

That's right, we've done the work. You just do the clickin...

Teaching Guides Using this Standard


Dress Rehearsal

Let’s take a look at this standard in action:

As the debate on energy continues, your environmental awareness teacher has asked you to write about a controversial issue in the world today. You choose to write about hydraulic fracturing, better known as “fracking.” No, it’s not a way to bust a move; it’s a new process in which sand is used to fracture shale deposits that hold gas and oil that is inaccessible by conventional means. Sounds like a boon, right?

Not so fast. Many are opposed to the necessary sand mining needed in the fracturing process; they are concerned that the increase in sand mining will be harmful to human health and detrimental to the environment. Nowhere is this procedure becoming more controversial than in the Midwest, where the supply of sand with its unique shape, size, and purity is readily available.

Your teacher has asked you to take a stand on this controversy and develop an argument in favor of or against sand fracking. You are to complete research to find information on the procedure and evidence that supports your reasons for your claim. You’ll learn how fracking is done, why it’s important, what the effects are both economically and environmentally, current practices, and future expectations. You must offer sound reasoning for your position, supporting it with facts, data, and statistics. Be aware, too, that you must address the concerns of the other side.

You decide to support sand mining for several reasons. It sounds like a “sand rush.” It makes MONEY. You learn that the procedure creates new businesses and new jobs, especially in rural areas. It also provides work for the railroads that carry the sand to oil and gas fields where hydraulic fracturing is performed. Money made in these states increases the ability of consumers to spend and save.

Fracking would also decrease the costs of drilling, and consequently, reduce the cost of gas and oil for consumers. Trucks and other equipment needed for the process would boost sales for other types of businesses as well. All these steps help the economy. Sounds all good, right?

Well, no. Others aren’t so sure that the sand mining in the Midwest is safe. They present the opposing viewpoint. This type of sand is very fine, and wind gusts distribute the stock-piled sand through the air. This dust might be harming humans and contaminate groundwater, they argue. The sharp edges of this sand might cause lung cancers and other lung ailments. Hmm, maybe not so good.

There’s more. Will the fracturing of the shale cause water problems? Will the fracturing cause earthquakes? Who knows? These are risks we’ll have to take if we want to continue fracking.

But hold on, the mining firms argue that they’ve established and maintained standards that address safety and environmental concerns. The systems in place are environmentally sound and safe, they claim. They also build vegetative berms around the fracking sites to keep the environment looking aesthetically pleasing. However, concerns have caused moratoriums and delays of sand mining in some areas of the Midwest. City councils, county boards, businesses, geologists, and citizens are joining the discussion.

As you begin writing, you’ll make a clear claim that states you are FOR sand fracking, and offer a brief outline of your reasons for this position. You will then list and develop your reasons in an organized and logical way, moving from one point to the next with clear transitions. Be sure to offer data, statistics, and facts that will bolster your side of the argument.

You must also present the opposing viewpoint, including the main reasons and evidence against your argument. You will then refute these points or make concessions and admit there are real advantages to stop or delay sand mining. Note that certain sides may have biases. For example, the businesses are certainly FOR the process since they are making money. Conversely, people living around the mining areas might be worried about their families’ health.

Keep in mind who your readers are…here, your teacher and classmates. Define any domain-specific vocabulary, or words that are particular to THIS topic that might be challenging given your audience’s prior knowledge of the subject. Keep your tone academic, however, for conversational airs have no place in this type of writing. Sorry, man.

Don’t forget to use transitional words, phrases, and clauses that will serve as a road map for your readers as they move from claim to reasons to evidence and from counter-claims to reasons to more evidence. Finally, don’t forget about your MUGS (mechanics, usage, grammar, and spelling) in the last draft of your paper. Be sure to edit these and turn in the most perfect version of your writing.

That’s a Wrap

Being on one side of a controversy is nothing new for most teens; after all, that’s what parents and siblings are for. In this standard, your students will expand their abilities to create, develop, and support an argument while anticipating the pressure from the other side. Addressing opposing viewpoints asks students to use their critical-thinking skills, which will be beneficial in any type of study. When they can argue their viewpoint in a strong, academic setting, your students will be on their way to becoming clear-thinking adults. What more could you want?


Put the following tasks in the order in which they should be performed when writing an argument.

1. drafting the essay
2. making a claim
3. addressing counterclaims
4. giving reasons for your viewpoint
5. researching the topic
6. developing the claim
7. editing the draft
8. offering supporting evidence
9. patting yourself on the back
10. revising the draft


1. The correct answer is (5). Research, research, research. It’s always a good idea to start by educating yourself on the issue, even if you think you’re already an expert. It’s important to look into all sides of any topic before you make up your mind about things.

2. The correct answer is (2). Before you start writing, you need to use the research you’ve done to determine what you think about the issue. This will become the central claim that you argue throughout your paper.

3. The correct answer is (6). Once you make a claim, you need to develop your thinking on it. Claims also need to be narrowed and focused to appropriately address the scope of your paper. For example, your controversial topic might be alternative energy, but a claim that alternative energy is either “good” or “bad” is way too general. You’ll need to develop and focus your claim to something more specific like, “All new public buildings in the city of Denver should be required to have solar panels on the roof.”

4. The correct answer is (4). Once your claim is developed and focused, it’s time to explain yourself. Why do you believe what you believe? What are your reasons?

5. The correct answer is (8). Got proof? What evidence supports those reasons? What facts, statistics, and expert opinions show that your reasons are valid?

6. The correct answer is (3). Once your thinking is fully developed, it’s time to address the thinking of the opposition. You’ll need to identify possible counterclaims and integrate those into your argument by refuting them or making strategic concessions where appropriate.

7. The correct answer is (1). So you’ve thought through your thinking and you’ve addressed the opposition’s thinking and you’ve got research to back it all up...time to draft. Start to get all that thinking and research into a form resembling a paper.

8. The correct answer is (10). Do you like to write one draft and be finished? Us too. The thing is, when we only write one draft, we find that the quality, well, it tends to stink. Your thinking will continue to develop and change as you put your ideas into a cohesive draft for the first time, so revision is inevitable because your thinking about the issue is still moving forward even as you write. We promise the revision will be worth it.

9. The correct answer is (7). Editing is when you want to fine-tune your transitions, syntax, and fix all those mechanical issues. Save this step for the end; it doesn’t make sense to spend time perfecting sentences that might still get moved around or cut in the revision step.

10. The correct answer is (9). Woohoo! You’re finished!

Aligned Resources