Teachers at my school dread teaching the opposing argument and rebuttal because students struggle with it so much. The first time I taught this it literally took a week to get them able to make an outline. So I developed this set of worksheets, handouts and lesson plans to teach students to write rebuttals into an argument or opinion essay. It’s been a huge success! After this lesson, students will understand why we write opposing arguments, how to use them, and the relationship between the opposing argument and support. This lesson is for more advanced students and will take around 3 days.
To teach students to write better argument or opinion essays
- Students will understand why the rebuttal form is effective
- Students will learn to recognize opposing arguments and rebuttals in argument and opinion essays
- Students will be able to brainstorm and outline opposing arguments and rebuttals
Make sure students know they are going to write an argument essay, which expresses their opinion on a topic. Usually this is on the syllabus and the book introduces it in some way or another. However, a fun way to set them up is to give them a controversial topic and let them debate for a while. Fun innocent controversial topics include:
- Who is the best football player ever?
- There should be no homework.
- English-only in the classroom is the best way to learn English.
- X class should be cancelled because it is useless where X stands for the least popular class in school.
Let them discuss a bit, summarize the main points, then tell them that they are going to learn how to write such awesome essays that everyone will agree with them!
Now, write on the board:
Ask students to brainstorm for 5 minutes what these terms mean and what the relationship between them is. Hopefully you will get something like:
Your thesis statement is your opinion. Topic sentences relate to the thesis statement. Topic sentences can be parts of the main opinion. Supporting arguments are reasons like examples or facts.
And they won’t know what an opposing argument or a rebuttal is.
Why an Opposing Argument and Rebuttal?
Briefly explain that an opposing argument is the opposite of a supporting argument. It’s a reason someone might disagree with your point of view, or something your opponent might say. A rebuttal is a way to prove your opponent is wrong. Ask if they think it’s good or bad to include opposing arguments in their essays (but don’t get too bogged down with it yet and don’t feel too much like the AT&T interviewer guy). Then tell them you are going to present them with two paragraphs that are pretty controversial.
Hand out the Why the rebuttal form paragraphs. Have them read them in pairs and then answer the questions which basically guide them to seeing why opposing arguments make an essay stronger. As you go over the question answers, elicit that both essays have the same thesis statement and opinion–drugs should be legal.
Paragraph 1 gives three reasons: everyone has the right to do bad things to their body, alcohol is legal, and legalizing drugs can lead to tax money for the government.
Paragraph 2 gives one reason only: everyone has the right to do bad things to their body.
Paragraph 2 starts with an opposing argument, the opposite of what the author things and then proves why that argument is wrong with a rebuttal. Finally, it gives some supporting ideas.
Most students will find paragraph 2 more convincing. Ask them why and work around to the idea that even though it gives fewer reasons, the opposing argument is (probably) the students’ own opinion–Drugs are bad, m’kay? By including that, the reader feels the author is listening to him or her and not just pushing his or her opinion down their throat. The author understands you may not agree with him or her and thus is trying to convince you. Explain that they still may not agree (and that you may not agree either) but that paragraph two is more convincing.
Other examples of opposing arguments and rebuttals include: campaign ads and arguments about sports (Oh come on, Beckham is only good at penalty kicks. Messi has scored way more goals).
Find the Opposing Arguments
Hand out the Argument Essay Outline. Go over the sample outline asking, does this argument agree or disagree with the author’s opinon? How does it agree? How does it disagree? If it disagrees, how does he rebut it? What do you think of the rebuttal?
Hand out the Highlighting Activity essay. First, have students read it and do some comprehension work with it. Make sure they get it. Be sure to tell them that it’s a student written essay as that is highly motivating.
Once students understand the content, have them do the highlighting exercises in groups step by step. As a class go over every step to make sure that the students are on the right track. I used to have students highlight, but my school could never keep that many highlighters of different colors so I changed it around. Here’s the Highlighting activity answer key.
In-Class Outline of an Argument Essay
At this point students should have a good idea of what an opposing argument is and how they work. Now I like to do an in-class outlining using the Argument Essay Outline. I either put the blank outline up on the projector or make a mock one on the board. Students each have a copy and together we brainstorm an essay. For large classes, I have them do this in small groups.
As a class pick a topic that is easy for students to argue such as school uniforms or why writing essays is useless. Now have them brainstorm as a class different opposing arguments and rebuttals. Make sure when you pick an answer to put on the board, that you explain why.
For example, imagine you are writing about why school uniforms are good. You ask for an opposing argument and students call out: “Uniforms are ugly at my school”, “I hate uniforms”, “Uniforms are expensive because you have to buy them at a special store.” As you write the third sentence down, explain that it’s more universal and objective, more people will agree with it. Note that some people like uniforms and some uniforms are nice looking so those opposing arguments aren’t as strong.
Finally, I have students outline their own essays.
Obviously this lesson is part of a larger project on writing an argument or opposing essay. So the logical next step is to have students come up with a topic, brainstorm opposing arguments and rebuttals, and write an essay!