Arguments happen in my classroom every day. Students state strong claims that others in the room vehemently disagree with. Emotions are barely controlled while students struggle to wait their turn to answer questions like this one: Is cereal soup?
Whether they want to or not, I require my students to argue because making a claim and supporting it with evidence is required on the AP English Language & Composition exam. To prepare for this, we practice taking a stance that we can defend with evidence even though others may disagree. One argument we explored this semester was whether Google was making us less intelligent. During this activity, I intentionally required students to argue both sides of the issue. Arguing for a position they disagree with, just to explore the line of reasoning used by proponents of the other side, stretches students’ critical thinking skills and also helps them to connect to their audience better.
Through this, they learn that crafting an argument is not about being the loudest voice in the room, nor is it simply about having the most factual evidence. Crafting an argument starts with listening: listening to the concerns of the people in that specific situation; listening to evidence from multiple perspectives, not just searching for the first internet result that supports your side; listening to your own tone so that the message you deliver is not obscured by anger or condescension. That is hard. That is why well-crafted arguments take practice.
One of my favorite ways to practice arguing is with a Socratic Seminar. During a Socratic Seminar, the class discusses a question of the day and takes a stance on the issue at the end of the discussion time. Students prepare for Socratic Seminar by researching the issue from multiple perspectives and bringing evidence with them to the discussion. Everyone is required to participate and share at least one new piece of evidence with a properly cited source. The goal is not winning; it is critical thinking.
Sitting in a circle, making eye contact, and waiting patiently for a turn to contribute to a discussion prepares students for a lifetime of well-crafted arguments at work and in our community. The Bible says in 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” As we eagerly anticipate celebrating the coming of the Christ child on Christmas, may we all be ready to share the hope that we have in our Savior who died and rose again to save us from our sins, but may we also remember to do so with gentleness and respect. Listen to the concerns of others, research the evidence in God’s Word, and then have a good argument.