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Helping students organise argument essays

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Rosh Pillay is a South African teacher. She used action research to help her students organise their argument essays and so improve their writing. You might like to try the same solutions she used.

Cheron Verster

Once Rosh had decided on the problem of her students' poor performance when writing argument essays, she investigated this problem by analysing her students' writing. This analysis made her think that a possible cause of the problem was that students did not know how to organise argument essays or paragraphs in such essays. She decided to try the following solutions:

  • Explain the overall organisation of an argument essay to students.
  • Explain paragraph organisation.
  • Give students a list of connectives which they could use in their essays. Make sure that they understand the relationships that are implied by these connectives.
  • Give students a model argument essay. Once they have read it, ask them to draw a spider-diagram of the essay in the following way:
    • Firstly, identify the thesis. Write it in a circle in the middle of a blank piece of paper.
    • Next, identify the claims or statements that are made to support this thesis. Write these around the thesis.
    • Then identify and list the details and examples which are given to support each claim/statement.
    • Finally, write relevant connectors between the thesis and the claims/statements and between the claims/statements themselves.
  • Give students a topic. Once they have completed pre-writing activities, like discussing the topic or reading about it, ask them to write a statement of their point of view of the topic. Then ask them to develop a spider-diagram around this statement.
  • Ask students to use this spider-diagram to write their essay.

Rosh used the essays which the students wrote as evidence of whether her solutions had worked or not. She observed that while both the overall structure, including paragraphing, and the use of connectives indicating ordering had improved, the use of connectors indicating reason had not. This will be her problem for her next action research cycle.

Here is a summary of the main stages of action research. Can you apply this approach to your teaching?

  • Identify the problem area.
  • Narrow it down so that it is manageable.
  • Investigate the problem.
  • Think about a solution and how to implement it.
  • Think about what evidence you will collect to decide whether your action is successful or not. How will you collect it? How will you analyse it?
  • Teach / act, observe and reflect.
Language level
Language Level: 
Intermediate: B1