Next Tuesday, when our Michigan students come for their beautiful, post-Labor Day first day of school, I’m going to bust out something hot.
In our school, we have to set goals for ourselves that can be measured with data. My goals are focused around W.CCR.1 and R.CCR.10 — writing argumentatively from a variety of complex texts. This is not because I’m a Common Core baller; rather, it’s because, during CCSS-ish experimenting with my courses last year, I found that students had little argumentative know-how and that argumentation was a lens through which so many of them began flourishing as intellectuals.
A walkthrough of a sweet argumentative warm-up that has
never been tested
So anyways, here’s the hotness: to help me get to know my students, and to introduce them to the awesomeness of argumentation on the first day, I’m going to have each student brainstorm five or so clear and precise arguable claims that tell the rest of the class something about them.
I’ll begin by modeling something like this:
Okay, some of the things that are important to me are my beautiful wife and daughters, Jesus, tacos, teaching, and reading. Some things that I did this past summer include camping out west, renovating a house, and hating/repeatedly singing “Call Me Maybe.” One of my core beliefs about students is that hard workers come out ahead of lazy smart people.
So that’s probably enough for my five. Now, how can I turn these into debatable claims? In other words, how can I state them in a way that you could argue with me? Let’s just try it:
- The three most beautiful women in the world are my wife, Crystal, and my two daughters, Hadassah and Laura.
- The most important person to have ever lived is Jesus.
- There’s really no contest — the best food in the world is tacos.
- The number one best job on the planet is the one that I have: teaching you.
- The most relaxing way to spend a rainy day is by curling up on the couch with a good book.
- The best campground in the United States is Granite Creek in Wyoming.
- The absolute worst song in the history of mankind is “Call Me Maybe.”
After I share each arguable claim, I will ask students to give me a thumbs up or thumbs down on whether it is debatable. I will then use index cards to call on students and ask them to make a counterclaim. Once I’ve modeled this and a few students have successfully done it, I’ll ask them to go to work writing their own claims that tell us something about them.
After five minutes or so, I’ll have them share all of their draft claims in their triads, and I’ll ask triad-mates to help each member choose which claim they should read to the whole class.
Finally, each student will read a claim to the whole class, and we’ll do some mad clapping, and we’ll move on.
Why do this?
I have several goals for this activity:
- Begin learning and making arguments on Day 1.
- Begin demonstrating the collaborative, creative, and awesome nature of arguments. The point of an argument isn’t winning, but rather it’s getting to the bottom of things. (<–Totally tweet that.) If we were to indulge in a (probably short) argument about the degree of horribleness of “Call Me Maybe,” in my class it wouldn’t be about winning; rather, it would be about collaboratively finding ways to prove such a claim and ways to argue against such a claim and, perhaps, to get to the bottom of what makes good music.
- Break the ice in my class in an academically meaningful way.