Argumentative Claim Formulation Activity
A claim is the skin and the exterior, the tip and leading edge, of an argument. This is why when people ask what arguments someone is making, it is common and quite proper to respond by relating their argumentative claims. Claims are short-hand for arguments; one’s argumentative claims are unevidenced arguments, and one’s arguments are evidenced claims.
The strength of the claim is in some fundamental ways the strength of one’s idea. Formulation of the argumentative claim is deceptively difficult. Getting your argumentative claim just right is getting your idea, your viewpoint, your interpretation just right.
Argument-Centered education has designed the Argumentative Claim Formulation Activity to develop and practice students’ academic argumentation skills in thinking through, organizing, and formulating argumentative claims.
So, how do we know whether our formulation of the argumentative claim is just right? How do we judge the strength of argumentative claims, when we’re assessing the strength and quality of argumentation? Well, there are four criteria that are widely used to guide successful claim formulation and assess argumentative claims. They can each be applied through a series of evaluative questions.
Argumentative claims should clearly and lucidly represent the writer or speaker’s idea. The reason that their position is true should be easily understood by the formulation of the claim.
Evaluative questions: Are the argumentative claims clear? Are the writer’s points made precisely? Do the claims clearly support the writer’s overall argumentative position?
Each argumentative claim should be a single reason that the overall position, or thesis, is true. An argumentative claim should be focused on a honed, precise, single point, half-way between the generality of the overall position and the detail of the evidence that supports it.
Evaluative questions: Are the argumentative claims each focused on a single point? Are they properly balanced between the detail of evidence and the generality of the overall argumentative position?
Argumentative claims should organize the overall argumentation of a writer or speaker, and should establish a relationship between, and separation of, the reasons that their overall position is true. All of the affirmative, pointed ideas about the issue should be in some ways organized by the claims the writer or speaker is making.
Evaluative questions: Are the argumentative claims separate and distinct from each other? Or do they overlap with or repeat each other? Do they assemble into a coherent overall argument for the position?
A fundamental requirement of argumentative claims is that they are all supportive of the writer or speaker’s overall position. Even if that position has to be modified or qualified by counter-arguments, in its ultimate form it has to direct all of the claims. Directedness also implies that claims are approximately equal, that they are proportional, in their support of the position.
Evaluative questions: Are the argumentative claims directed by a single overall position? Are the argumentative claims consistent with each other? Or do they contradict each other? Are they parallel with each other, or do they seem unmatched?
Method and Procedure
Produce and review a model argumentative claim formulation, assessing it relative to all four criteria.
Then, each student should formulate claims in response the questions below.
After students have been given an adequate amount of time to complete their claim formulations, the teacher should cold-call a student to read their claim formulation to the first question.
The teacher should then cold-call a second student and ask if they think that their argument formulation is better than the first on any of the four criteria. If the answer is no, then the teacher should cold-call another two students and repeat the process. If the answer is no a second time, the teacher should analyze the differences between the two claim formulations on the question for the class, awarding the better of the two with . . . bonus points? a classroom privilege of some kind? a small piece of candy (perhaps sugarless?)? a simple recognition?
If the answer is yes (from the second student the first time, or the second time), then the student should read their argumentative claim. The teacher should then cold-call a third student and ask them to evaluate the two claims on each of the four criteria, identifying which claim is preferable on each criterion and which claim is better overall. To do this, both students will need to re-read their argumentative claims at least once.
Repeat steps 3 – 5 until all of the questions have been completed.
Collect and formatively assess each student’s argumentative claim formulations.
Argumentative Claim Formulation Exercises
This is an example of exercises that the Argumentative Claim Formulation Activity has students completing and evaluating, in relation to the above criteria: clarity, focus, organization, and directedness.
For this question, assume that your overall position is that the school year should be extended to a year-round calendar, with periodic three-week breaks taking the place of the long summer vacation.
One argument that you’re making is that year-round education prevents students from experiencing the “summer slide” which is when students forget much of what they learned the previous year.
Formulate another argumentative claim:
If you implement the Argumentative Claim Formulation Activity, please let us know how it goes!