This week, Mr. Tourais’ 11th grade English class put their rhetorical skills to use in an exercise that not only made them look at weaknesses in their arguments but also possible strengths in any counterclaims.
Eleventh graders recently finished reading Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison and were tasked with integrating a piece of literary criticism of the book into their own analysis. The students came to class with new, improved outlines and were paired with classmates at a table divided into two sections. Their goal was to argue against their own argument.
On one end, students used yellow post-it notes to state their argument and used a different colored post-it to show how they were going to move point-by-point in support of that argument. Once finished, they spent the rest of class identifying the weakest part of their defense and tried to attack it. After 25 minutes, the students switched sides to examine their peer’s work and add to the attack.
“Each pair had to read a different criticism of the book, so they all had different perspectives on the text and were able to come at the argument from different angles,” said Mr. Tourais. “At the end of class, each student should have developed a clearer vision of their initial argument and how they were going to defend it.”
The students’ homework was to go home and consider the counterclaim. They could either adjust their argument to include the counter or come up with a way to counter the counter.
“The goal of today was to assert the importance of anticipating counterclaims and give the kids some experience with that skill,” said Mr. Tourais.
A skill that could be used if they were to choose a career in politics, law… or perhaps if they didn’t feel like doing their chores!