Let’s face it. Many of the prompts your state provides for your students are boring. The students will diligently write to the prompt, but the prompts are usually out of touch with current issues or topics that interest your students.
So what is the answer?
*Note: Before you launch this lesson plan, be sure to teach them about how to search the internet for legitimate research. Your students will also need access to Google Docs to do this assignment.
What I’m about to detail is a proven lesson plan that targets student need while sparking student interest.
- Begin by randomly assigning partners. If you let them choose their own partners they will pair up with like-minded students which might (on rare occasions) derail what you are trying to do. If you are a good teacher, you know your kids. If you can, pair them up with students with whom they don’t usually associate.
- Instruct students to make a list of at least 10 topics that irritate them. The prompt should be something like: “What are ten things about our world either politically or economically that make you upset? What are ten things that keep you up at night? What are ten things that people have strong opinions about?”
- After they choose their ten items, instruct them to choose two or three of the items off of their list for which the partners can’t agree. What are two or three of the topics that divide the partners against one another personally.
- After they have their two or three items, instruct them to choose the most heated item. Which item causes the two partners to become bitter enemies if they cannot agree. They have just chosen their topic.
- Tell students that their partner has just become their enemy. They are to debate these topics with one another across the table or find a place in the room where they can talk it out. The next step is that they need to go to the internet and find articles from news services, opinion pages or other legitimate sources (I assume you have already taught them about finding legitimate research). They need to keep the mindset that they cannot let their partner win.
- Instruct your students to open a Google Doc and then share it with their partner. One student will begin by writing an introduction which illustrates their personal tie to the topic before stating their claim statement at the end of the paragraph. The second student will begin the next paragraph with something like “However, another view of this topic is…” and then will write their own introduction and claim statement.
- The back-and-forth will then begin with each student being able to see what their partner is writing so that they can counter them with their own empirical evidence.
- Now is when you throw them the curve ball. Tell students that their final paragraphs (one paragraph per student) needs to be how they can agree with at least one point their partner made about the topic.
Results: My students worked harder on this lesson than any other essay assignment I taught all year long. They became passionate about their topic, competed with each other to write the best argument possible using evidence, policed each other regarding faulty or weak evidence, and generally worked harder to make their messages grammatically clear in order to “defeat” their partner. They also learned how to compromise and work with someone they didn’t know to achieve a goal.
Try this out with your students. They might find out that they have an appetite for argument.