The Shift from Persuasion to Argument

As a new school year begins, teachers are busy prepping lessons and assessments using the Common Core State Standards. At many schools, teachers are sitting down together and comparing the old standards with the new ones, paying attention to the shifts in learning. One shift that is often highlighted is the move from persuasive to argumentative writing. This affects not only English Language Arts classrooms, but also History and Science classrooms, since students are expected to write about the informational texts that they read.

So, just what is the difference between persuasion and argument?

First let’s take a look at the anchor standard in writing:
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

shutterstock_147904637The key words that really set argument apart from persuasion are reasoning and evidence. Argumentative writing is based on logical reasoning which will convince an audience. Arguments are objective and use facts only – rather than opinion. For example, question 2 in this “O Captain! My Captain!” assignment asks students to use textual evidence to support their reasoning. In this “The Highwayman” assignment, question 4 asks students to write a response which includes evidence to support their claim.

Argument also analyzes opposing viewpoints. Aristotle once said, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” For instance, an argumentative essay may bring up several counterclaims, respecting that they are valid, but ultimately providing evidence which proves that the writer’s argument is stronger. For example, question 3 in this Susan B. Anthony assignment assesses whether or not students understand counterarguments.

The next question then is – how is this different than persuasive writing?shutterstock_77780575

While persuasive writing does use logic and facts, it also relies on pathos. Pathos is a tactic used to appeal to an audience’s emotions. Persuasive writing is more subjective and often based on the personal convictions of the writer. The writer may use storytelling, personal experience, or passionate calls to action to appeal to an audience’s emotions. For example, this Patrick Henry speech relies heavily on emotional calls to action.

Persuasion may not address any opposing viewpoints, and if they are addressed, they are strongly dismissed without being fairly validated. 

Pro and Con StatueArgument-Aligned

In the end, both types of writers want to convince the audience. A persuasive writer’s audience is convinced through strong emotional appeals. The writer of an argumentative essay, though, keeps a fair and balanced tone, providing strong reasons and research to convince the reader.

For example, how would you scaffold this writing prompt for History so that student writing is aligned with argument rather than persuasion: Which ancient civilization most influenced how our own government was shaped? How about this science-based writing prompt: Is testing on animals a solution or problem?

As curriculum continues the shift into Common Core, it is important for teachers to collaborate and create strategies to help developing writers in all classes support their ideas with text-based evidence. A great way to collaborate is to upload assignments for argument-aligned writing on Edcite! Or you can customize assignments that have already been uploaded and tagged to Writing Standard 1 (ex: W.8.1 or W.7.1)!


profileNicole Bixler has been teaching middle school in Los Angeles for nine years. She has taught English, Theater Production, and Creative Writing. This year she is teaching Humanities — a combination of English and History — for the first time. Nicole uses technology often in her classroom. She specifically loves Edcite “because it was a quick way for me to assess their knowledge of specific standards, and they also became comfortable with Smarter-Balanced style questions. They felt very confident when it came time for the end-of-the-year test.”

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