Arguing a Point

Unit Plan

Belinda Wallace
Adapted by Mark Rounds
College Prep-Honors
4 weeks

California Language Arts Content Standards
Standards Addressed in this Unit
1.0Listening and Speaking Strategies 11/12
1.1 Recognize strategies used by media to inform, persuade, entertain, and transmit.
1.2 Analyze the impact of media on the democratic process at the local, state, and national levels.
Analysis and Evaluation of Oral and Media Communications
1.11 Critique a speaker's diction and syntax in relation to the purpose of an oral communication and the impact the words may have on the audience.
1.12 Identify logical fallacies used in oral addresses (e.g., attack ad hominem, false causality, red herring, overgeneralization, bandwagon effect).
1.13 Analyze the four basic types of persuasive speech (i.e., propositions of fact, value, problem, or policy) and understand the similarities and differences in their patterns of organization and the use of persuasive language, reasoning, and proof.
1.14 Analyze the techniques used in media messages for a particular audience and evaluate their effectiveness (e.g., Orson Welles' radio broadcast "War of the Worlds").
2.0 Writing Application 9/10 (Genres and their Characteristics)
2.4Write persuasive compositions:
  1. Structure ideas and arguments in a sustained and logical fashion.
  2. Use specific rhetorical devices to support assertions (e.g., appeal to logic through reasoning; appeal to emotion or ethical belief; relate a personal anecdote, case study, or analogy).
  3. Clarify and defend positions with precise and relevant evidence, including facts, expert opinions, quotations, and expressions of commonly accepted beliefs and logical reasoning.
  4. Address readers' concerns, counterclaims, biases, and expectations.
Supporting Standards

Teacher Background Reading


Smiley Select and adapt these learning activities to best meet the needs of your students, and to fit the time available:

  1. Introduction to the unit - 3 periods

    What is an argument?

    Discussion and role-play activities to develop a shared understanding and a definition

    Is there a right answer? Listening to each other

    This is a group activity that focuses on interpersonal skills by encouraging students to discuss a topic that will stimulate an argument for which there is no clear right answer. Students need to be in groups of no more than five. Each group should have an observer. Put a time limit on the activity. Groups will want to report back their opinions. Allow time for observers to comment.

    Strategies for grouping students
    Task sheet for observers

    Resource 1: The Baroness's story
    Resource 2: Survival

    Teacher provides feedback to observers' comments about the skills of presenting a good argument. Students write a self-evaluation of their role in the group and how effective they were in presenting a good argument.

    What makes a person good at arguing

    In groups students brainstorm what makes a person good at arguing. Share and list. What to avoid? Overhead - discuss

  2. The language of arguments - What makes someone a persuasive speaker?
    An introduction to the language of oratory.

    • Brainstorm a list of famous people who have reputations as strong, persuasive speakers; eg. Churchill, Hitler, J.F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Mandela. (see Famous Speech Archive)
    • Briefly discuss how their ability to present an argument has influenced the world.
    • Identify and discuss some of the distinctive language features that make these speakers so powerful. See also this ARB resource of persuasive language.
    • Use a transcript of one of these speakers. (I used M.L. King's "I have a dream..." speech
    • Teacher reads or plays the first part of the speech and locates and discusses some examples.
    • Groups/pairs are allocated a section and asked to read, summarize what is said and find at least three language techniques that makes the speech effective
    • Students report back
    • Students list examples of effective techniques in their books

  3. Listening to speakers

    Sources from the Internet. You can either use the resource direct from the Internet or record it to play in class.

    Listen to the persuasive speeches of Neville Chamberlain: Declaration of War 1939, and George Bush: Bombing of Iraq 1991.

    As students listen get them to make notes on the activity sheet.

    • Discuss the purpose of these speakers and how the purpose influences the content and the language.
    • Discuss the language techniques the speakers use to position the listener and to present their point of view. Use these ARB resources to prepare students to evaluate legitimate and illegitimate forms of argument:
    • Discuss delivery techniques such as pause, pace, stress and tone.
    • Discuss the structure of these speeches and how both build to a climax.
    • Students write up summaries in their notebooks.

    Students could be given an individual/paired research task to listen to and comment on the speech of at least one other well-known speaker.

    Other possible sites for listening resources are:

  4. Listening to arguments: Mock Trial

    Possible resources:

  5. More listening practice

    Resource needed
    Record a television interview (Bill O'Reilly, Larry King, Chris Matthews) in which the host has two participants with different view points.

    Use this to discuss:

    • Features of informal and conversational language .
    • Listening and hearing what the speakers are talking about
    • Listening for reasons and how speakers support opinions
    • Listening for logical and faulty reasoning, arguing against the person rather than the issue, interrupting, anger/annoyance
    • Discussing and listening to the role of the interviewer in encouraging and stimulating discussion
    • Reflecting critically on the balance in the discussion

    See Listening to an Interviewer

  6. Assessment task
    Students are then directed to the task sheet questions (these could be read out). Each short section of the tape relevant to the questions is shown twice with time allowed for writing answers between showings.

    Role-play activity - an interview.

    • Students work in groups of five. Each group selects a topical issue from a class brainstorm list. One person is the interviewer, and the other students divide themselves into for and against the issue.
    • Students identify and establish a role from a given list eg. concerned housewife, scientist etc. They are to argue from this role but present an informed viewpoint.
    • Preparation of material. Allow one or two periods. Students research issue, drafting statements of opinions with supporting evidence. Interviewer researches and prepares questions. Teacher conferences individually with students.

    Resources:, Fox News Channel, MSNBC News, Encarta, World Book, current newspapers, CD-ROM and other print resources.

    • Students present interviews in groups set up as a studio interview. Teacher videos presentation of interviews live (stop and rewind only if the interview breaks down). Emphasize the need for the collective responsibility of the group to sustain the discussion!
    • Playback video.
    • Task sheet for observers (could be used to involve audience)

  7. Assessment task - listening (50 minutes).
    Show the television interview you recorded (see #5 for suggestions and #6 for additional resources).
  8. Writing activity - a Persuasive Essay
    Students use the information collected from listening and speaking activities to select a topic and draft and process a persuasive essay that discusses an issue.

    • Provide models - analyze language and structure
    • Collaborative writing activity
    • Drafting and processing
    • Publication standard - editing
    • Publishing writing online

    Useful resources on writing for teachers can also be found at:






This unit could be followed up by developing skills of formal debate.