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: What's an Argument, Anyway?
Arguments are useful little buggers. 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. (What can we say? Despite ultimately being wrong, your friend made some good points.)
- 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 little 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 way other people can crush our hopes of dominating the world through argument is by refusing to accept a claim—a general statement of belief or interpretation of the facts—without a good reason. In fact, really hardcore argumentative types will demand not one but many reasons why they should believe someone's claim to be true. They'll ask for facts, statistics, quotes from experts—the whole nine yards. In short, they want evidence.
Who are these picky argument sticklers? You know them. They're the teachers who ask you fill your English papers with more citations from the text than you can shake a stick at. 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 an argument statement into an actual complete argument using the most basic building blocks of the trade: claims and evidence. And after today, you'll be one of them.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.1a: From Statement to Argument
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 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 complete argument. And unless they live in a magical world where everyone agrees with them all the time, writers need to do that.
Because if people pull out the 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, or 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, or stuff the author expects the reader to believe without evidence. Should the reader believe this stuff without evidence?
- Sources. Who are the other people or places—such as other writers, news media, or even personal connections—this author gets his facts from? Are they reliable sources? Should we really believe what hotguy46 on Yahoo Answers says about the critical reading process?
- Author Bias. Does the author stand 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 gave. Let's say that Jim is trying to convince his parents to let him stay out past 11 p.m. on a school night:
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 school work. 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 school work 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.
If we were Jake's parents and we really wanted to get into it with him, we'd probably start by attacking Jake's assumptions and author bias. Or we might say "because I said so." It always worked for our parents.
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 might as well pack up and call it a day. But newsflash: Arguments can be way more complex than that. 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.
Now, instead of "Argument = claim + evidence," you have Argument = Part 1 + Part 2, Where Part 1 = sub-claims + evidence and Part 2 = 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. That's what today's activity is for.
Sample Lesson - Reading
Reading 1.1b: Writing for Argument Sticklers
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 Thomas Friedman's "Sorry, Kids. We Ate it All," and Naomi Rose's "A Win-Win Solution for Captive Orcas and Marine Theme Parks," pay attention to what the major argument statements are, the sub-claims the author proves, and the evidence he uses to do it.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.1a: Dissecting Arguments: Friedman
Get ready to dissect those arguments you just read. Just think of all those sub-claims and evidence as the internal organs and your brain as a scalpel ready to unleash them all over the place. Unless you have a weak stomach, in which case, just pretend we didn't say that.
First, up: Friedman's editorial, "Sorry, Kids. We Ate it All."
We're going to pick apart Friedman's article, identifying the Main Claim, Sub-Claims, and the Evidence and Sources that back up the sub-claims.
For your first time out of the gate, we're going to make it easy on you: we have the main argument, sub-claims, evidence, and sources Friedman's making or using in his editorial all written out and handed to you on a platter.
We've listed Friedman's two main claims below. Then, we've listed all of the sub-claims made in the article and the evidence and sources. Your job is to assign each sub-claim from the list below to the correct main claim by pasting it into the correct text box. Once you've assigned all sub-claims, tell us which of the evidence or sources Friedman uses to back his claims up.
Sub-Claims, Evidence, and Sources:
- Once the government shutdown ends, seniors, Wall Street, and unions will all lobby to have their own interests protected.
- Our politicians will back down on making financial reforms the minute people protest.
- "Government spending, investments, entitlements, and poverty alleviation have overwhelmingly benefited the elderly since the 1960s."
- The over-65 population will grow by 100% between now and 2050, whereas the working population that will have to support them will only grow by 17%.
- The current spending on the older generation will erase any chance today’s children have of getting the social, education, and health services they need.
- Unsupported/Personal Opinion
- Unsupported/Personal Opinion
- Stan Druckenmiller
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.1b: Dissecting Arguments: Rose
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, we have the Main Claims ready for you, but you've got to come up with the sub-claims, evidence, and sources on on your own. And don't forget to answer those questions about author assumptions and bias, too.
Sample Lesson - Activity
Activity 1.1c: Dissecting Arguments: Your Choice
Now you get to dissect an argument entirely on your own. We aren't even going to find the editorial for you. Hard core.
Instead, go to CNN or the New York Times' opinion pages and spend some time browsing until you find an editorial that interests you. Then, find the main claims, subclaims, and evidence that article uses and fill them in below. We'll give you 3 spots for main claims, but if there's only 2, feel free to leave the 3rd set of claims/evidence blank.
- Course Length: 0 weeks
- Grade Levels: 9, 10
- Course Type: Short Course
Just what the heck is a Shmoop Online Course?
Common Core Standards
The following standards are covered in this course:CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.1