Starting an argument has never been so fun.
Are you ready to take your argument technique to the next level? Screaming stuff at the top of your lungs works really well for professional linebackers and drill sergeants, but everybody else should probably take this course. Here, we introduce you to the thing that started it all—the argument—and five variations on that theme.
Need to explain how your relationship with your iPhone is totally like the hippopotamus's symbiotic relationship with that weird little bird? (Really, who doesn't?) That's in here. So is a way to say "no" to everything someone says without sounding like a two-year-old.
Also in here: disagreeing with someone's point while still sounding open-minded and thoughtful, a magical method for changing the meaning of words, and a formula for explaining how the world works.
So what are you waiting for? Get in here.
Unit 1. Argumentative Strategies
This course explores some basic strategies of argumentation and how to implement them in writing, including:
- Cause and effect
- Concession and rebuttal
- Definition and reinterpretation
Sample Lesson - Introduction
Lesson 1: Whose Argument Is It, Anyway?
Arguments are useful little dudes. They just have a bad rep. Using nothing more than an argument, you can
- convince your friend, a die-hard Breaking Bad fan, that The Wire is in fact the best TV show of all time.
- successfully petition a teacher to extend the deadline on that essay you've been putting off writing because you just had to watch the Breaking Bad finale. Turns out your friend made some good points in that argument.
- weasel out of doing the dishes on your night because you've just got to write that essay. After all, the teacher's extended the deadline once already.
Sounds good, right? Who doesn't want to get their way and convince everyone that they're right pretty much all of the time?
There's just one teeny problem with our imagined scenario.
It assumes that nobody else in the world knows how to argue.
And as anyone who's ever gotten into a fight with a sibling or had to explain less-than-ideal behavior to a parent knows, that's just not true.
One of the ways other people can crush our dreams of world domination is by rejecting our claim that global dictatorship a la Shmoop is the way of the future. That's because a claim is a general statement of belief or interpretation of the facts, and opinion alone isn't enough to make a winning argument. You need a reason.
In fact, really hardcore argumentative types will demand not one but many reasons why they should believe a claim. They'll ask for facts, statistics, quotes from experts—the whole nine yards. In short, they want evidence.
You already know who these picky argument-sticklers are. They're the teachers who ask you fill your English papers with more citations from the text than you can shake a stick at (should you happen to want to shake a stick thusly). They're the parents who tell you that "because all my friends are doing it" isn't a good enough reason to get a tattoo. They're anyone who demands that you turn a statement of opinion into an actual complete argument using the most basic building blocks of the trade—claims and evidence.
And after this course, you'll be one of them, too.
Welcome to the Borg.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.1a: Your Throwaway YouTube Comment Is Not Enough
Defining the Parts and Pieces
You know what an argument statement is. You make them all the time.
- "I should be allowed to stay out past 11 p.m."
- "Bella should totally go out with Jacob instead of Edward."
- "Shmoop is awesome."
How easy is that? Very.
What's not so easy is backing that argument statement up with evidence to turn it into a full-blown and complete argument. And unless they live in a magical world where everyone agrees with them all the time, writers need to do that.
Once people pull out their critical thinking skills, they're going to analyze that argument statement. In other words, they're going to demand really good reasons for believing that an argument is true. How? By asking questions about
- evidence—all of the little facts an author presents, or mini-arguments he makes, to support the main argument. Does all of the evidence really add up to this author's conclusion that the main argument is true?
- assumptions—the stuff the author expects the reader to believe without evidence. Should the reader believe this stuff without evidence?
- sources—what other people or places—such as other writers, news media, or even personal connections—this author got his facts from. Are they reliable sources? Should we really believe what hotguy46 on Yahoo Answers! says about the critical reading process?
Hotness can only go so far, after all.
- author bias—whether the author—or speaker—stands to gain something from making this argument. If so, has he let that influence his thinking?
Let's break it down using one of the argument examples we mentioned earlier. Let's say that Jim is trying to convince his parents to let him stay out past 11 p.m. on a school night. Here's Jim, with the 10 o'clock argument:
I should totally be allowed to stay out past 11 p.m. Jake and Rhonda are both staying out until midnight. Their parents obviously think it's okay. Plus, I don't have any homework to do, so it's not like staying out late would affect my schoolwork. And I just read an article in Time magazine that said that parents who give their kids more freedom are setting them up for success in adulthood.
Evidence: These are all the mini-arguments or facts Jim lines up to support the argument that he should be able to stay out past 11 p.m. on a school night.
- Jake and Rhonda are both allowed to stay out until midnight.
- I don't have any homework, so staying out late won't affect my schoolwork.
- Parents who give their kids more freedom are helping them learn to navigate the real world.
Assumptions: What does Jim assume is true without giving evidence?
- Jake and Rhonda are staying out until midnight with their parents' permission.
- Staying out late only affects Jim's schoolwork if he has homework to do.
Sources: Where does Jake get his evidence?
- What Jake and Rhonda are doing
- Time magazine
Author bias: Does Jake stand to gain something by making this argument?
- Um, yes. He gets to romp around all night with his friends.
Simple vs. Complex Arguments
Jake's argument was pretty simple. It had one main claim, "I should be allowed to stay out past 11 p.m. on a school night," and some evidence to support it. If every argument were so simple we could pack up and call it a day.
But it's not. And Santa isn't real.
Arguments can be way more complex than what Jim's got goin' on up there. They can have
- multiple parts. What if Jake had said "I should be allowed to stay out past 11 p.m. on a school night, and tonight is the ideal night to start"? Then he'd also have to prove that tonight is a good night to stay out late.
- sub-claims. Sometimes, a writer proves a big argument by proving lots of smaller arguments that add up to make the big argument true. We call these smaller arguments sub-claims. Just like the big claim, they're statements of belief, or of one person's interpretation of the facts. Had Jake used sub-claims, they might sound like, "I'm already allowed to go out on school nights" or "When we go through Daylight Savings Time, an hour here or there isn't that much difference."
Now, instead of "Argument = claim + evidence," you have "Argument = Part One + Part Two, where Part One = sub-claims + evidence and Part Two = sub-claims + evidence."
If you're feeling a little confused right now, you're not alone. We should probably steer clear of mixing algebra and writing before we've seen some examples—which is what today's activity is all about.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.1b: A Wild Argument Appears!
Let's scope out some real-life arguments in their natural habitat—the opinion pages. Every paper and major news source has them. They're full of editorials, columns where someone can unload their opinion on the paper's readers.
Most editorial writers assume their readers are those argument sticklers we mentioned in our lesson intro, so they back up their opinion—or argument statement—with a bunch of evidence. But how convincing is it? That's for you to decide.
As you read Elizabeth Currid-Halkett's "The 21st Century Silver Spoon" and Naomi Rose's "A Win-Win Solution for Captive Orcas and Marine Theme Parks," pay attention to and make notes in the margins about the following ideas:
- What are the major argument statements of each editorial?
- Are there any sub-claims that the authors mention and/or try to prove?
- What evidence and/or reasoning do the writers use to back up their claims?
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.1a: Fool Me Once, Claim on You
Get ready to dissect those arguments you've just read. Just think of all those sub-claims and points of evidence as the internal organs, and you as the scalpel that's about to tear them open.
Unless you have a weak stomach, in which case…don't.
First up—Currid-Halkett's "The 21st Century Silver Spoon."
We're going to pick apart Currid-Halkett's article, identifying the main claim, sub-claims, and any evidence and reasoning that back up these claims.
And we'll be talking about those pesky warrants, too. Warrants are the assumptions that link different parts of arguments together, btdubs.
Sorry, we just assumed you knew that already. Our bad.
For your first time out of the gate, we're going to make it easy on you by handing you the main claims Currid-Halkett makes.
Your job will be to identify the sub-claims for each main claim. But remember, not every claim we give you will have a sub-claim.
Once you've figured out the sub-claims related to each main claim, identify some of the evidence or sources Currid-Halkett uses to back up her claims.
Lastly, note the warrants, or assumptions. Most will be implicit, but some will be out there in the open for you to nab. You lucky dog.
Okay, fiiiine. We've modeled the first warrant for you. Use it well, because the rest are all you.
Still having trouble? Look back to our "Jim the school kid" example in Reading One Part A. We've outlined the main claim, sub-claims, and evidence/sources for you there.
We're looking for one to two sentences for each text box.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.1b: Fool Me Twice, Claim's Still on You
It's time to up the ante. Let's do the same exercise for Naomi Rose's article, "A Win-Win Solution for Captive Orcas and Marine Theme Parks." This time, you've got to come up with the main claims, sub-claims, evidence, and warrants all on your own. The warrants will come all the way at the end of your analysis.
When you identify the sub-claims and evidence, just label them in the order that they appear in the text, like this:
- Sub-claim(s): Economic growth since the Industrial Revolution has created a large middle class and made luxury more affordable to many people.
Evidence: Think Henry Ford and the Model T, Levittown and suburbia, fashion and knockoffs.
- Sub-claim(s): Not all of their purchases look expensive.
Evidence: They don't wear labels, and the details that indicate "expensive" in clothing are subtle.
Need a refresher? Ol' Jim from Reading One Part A is still there for you to check back on. He holds all the secrets of the universe.
Well, not really. But he holds enough insight to get you through this baby.
Like the last time, we're looking for one to two sentences per text box. Please and thank you.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.1c: The Choice Is Yours and Yours Alone
- Course Length: 3 weeks
- Grade Levels: 9, 10
- Course Type: Short Course
- High School
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following Common Core Standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1