Bringing the Hurricanes into Your Classroom

August 31, 2017 Les Lynn Argument and Literacy, Resources, The Debatifier

The late-summer, 2017, brought two enormous, category 5 hurricanes crashing into the southern United States and the Caribbean, a several week ordeal that some individuals and communities in these regions will be spending years recovering from.  Given the suffering that these massive storms have produced, one response we should feel as educators is a charitable one.  Hurricane Harvey charitable efforts are collected and vetted on this credible site; while Hurricane Irma charities are similarly treated on this one.

Not in any way inconsistent with this moral reaction to the hurricanes is a pedagogical one: to bring the attention, media coverage, writing and thinking about, and latent issues within these thunderous acts of nature just prior to the school year into your classrooms early in the school year.  This post will discuss an approach that we are taking with partner schools.

Argument-Based Questions to Analyze Text

Included in our argumentalization of hurricane units with a couple of our partner schools, we have developed argument-based questions that help students think critically about and analyze informational and literary texts.  The informational texts focus on Hurricane Harvey, though they could readily be extended, with a little bit of research and application of the principles exemplified by the questions, to Hurricane Irma.

Informational Texts

Here are the informational texts that we are using.

Click above to download the article comparing Katrina and Harvey.
Click above to download the informational article on the rescue efforts that took place during and shortly after Hurricane Harvey.
Click above to download the informational article about looking into the question of hypocrisy in Texas over attitudes toward federal government involvement and support.


To analyze and think critically, we have had students respond to and discuss these argument-based questions.

Click above to download the argument-based analytical questions on the informational texts in the hurricanes unit.

Literary Texts

Here are the literary texts that we are using. (Credit for their selection goes to the Jones College Prep English Department.)

Click above to link to several of the poems from Patricia Smith’s ‘Blood Dazzler.’
Click above to download Sherman Alexie’s “Every Little Hurricane,” from his debut, semi-autobiographical novel The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (1994).

The argument-based analytical questions that students use to discuss and think critically about these literary texts, and what they say and suggest about hurricanes, are these.

Click above to download the argument-based analytical questions on literary texts in the hurricanes unit.

Argument-Based Seminar

Reading about, discussing, analyzing, thinking critically about the recent hurricanes, and writings about hurricanes, can culminate in this unit in an argument-based seminar.  The Debatifier has posted on our (argument-centered) version of the classic Socratic Seminar, and we’ll include the format again here.

Click above to download the Argument-Centered Socratic Seminar format.

The debatable issues to organize the Argument-Based Seminar around are two.

Has America lived up to its values through the run of recent hurricanes (beginning with Katrina in 2005)?

Should every student at our school feel a moral compulsion [or feel morally compelled] to donate to a Harvey (or Irma) hurricane relief fund?
We have built two argument models on the first debatable issue above.
Click above to download an argument model supporting the position that America has upheld its valued during the recent hurricanes.
Click above to download an argument model supporting the position that America has not upheld its valued during recent hurricanes.

There are some notes that we have written for our partner schools on use of these resources for an Argument-Centered Seminar.

The argumentative claims are, of course, specific reasons to believe the overall position, as they always are.

Reasoning can and often should include linkage between the claim and the position, to underline the significance of the claim to substantiating the overall position.

Reasoning does not merely paraphrase the evidence.  It accentuates phrases or data-points, makes clear the connection between evidence and claim, and analyzes the evidence’s “dispositive importance” (to quote Stephen Toulmin).

Evidence in the models is either quoted or paraphrased text from the unit.  It is useful to demonstrate both forms of the use of text.

That said, evidence should not have to be textual, in this unit — if students know something more about the hurricanes, that they can convincingly recount, beyond what they have read or watched, they should be able to use this as evidence.  Of course, the more factual, the better.

The arguments do not need to be “won” in a seminar. Concessions and reasonable synthesis is very much a part of the inquiry basis of such a learning strategy.

Let us know if you use any of the above resources, and how it goes for you.  And if you’d like our help adapting our resources for your school’s purposes, or supporting your implementation, just reach out.