Engaging students in argumentative writing does not automatically mean students must engage in long-form writing. In this activity we take advantage of the benefits of distributed practice while asking students to analyze and evaluate what they have learned. Students engage critically with material learned in class and produce a focused piece of writing that makes a claim and justifies it. This strategy also provides a built-in answer for the “Did we do anything important?” question from your absent students, in that students in class must decide what was important and why. This activity can last anywhere from 5 minutes to an entire class period, and can be useful as a warm-up exercise or a mid-unit check for understanding.
Students will select at least three important things the student or the class learned the day before and explain why they are important. The why is the key part of this exercise, though it doesn’t necessarily need more than 1-2 sentences per item. While this is the foundation of the activity and can easily be done as a 5-minute bellringer/warm-up activity, teachers are also encouraged to pick and choose from the following, using elements as necessary to build this activity to meet instructional objectives.
This can be expanded to have students meet in small groups to review their lists together and come to agreement on a new list of three with justifications.
This can become a whole-class activity, where small groups report out and the class evaluates and decides on what is most important and why.
This can be a mid-unit check for understanding, in which students are asked to build the most important things they have learned so far in the unit.
This can be an activity where students rank the relative importance of each of the things they have learned. Students might then classify their selections as important to know or nice to know if someone wanted to be knowledgeable about the topic. (This is also a good tool for helping students determine what they should study.)
As you plan this activity, be aware of some common challenges:
Students sometimes want to “win” and as a result selectively exclude evidence that does not support their perspective. This is a great time to remind students that a scholar’s views are shaped by what he or she learns, and that the mark of a scholar is a willingness to change his/her mind in the face of new evidence.
“Most important” can very easily become most recent because it is easiest for students to immediately access in their memory. A solution to this can include a class brainstorm of all of the things that were learned, giving students a common set of options to choose from.
It is tempting to look for a “right” answer in this exercise. The focus of the exercise is not for the students to match your idea of what was important, but to make a claim (X was important) and to support their claim with evidence.
Find a pdf version of this strategy here.
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