Text Set: Exploring Argument Basics

Posted on April 7, 2020


Author’s Note: This was originally posted as a PAGE on 1/16/19. I have made it a POST, which I meant to do when I created it.

In the Basics of Argumentation MAISA unit for ELA9, students explore media and advertising to identify and analyze rhetorical devices, in language, as well as visual and aural content. While the unit calls for an exploration of “advertising,” I’ve broadened the focus to “media,” because my students understand that a narrative can present an argument, as can a poem or a song, and I want my students to be able to recognize persuasive elements in ANY type of content container.

To build depth of understanding, course coherence, and to continue to promote independent reading, I’ve add two additional points of focus to the unit: the media and advertising students examine must be related to BOOKS about a SOCIAL ISSUE.

This approach allows me to call upon ideas from previous units, to give students solid footing as we go into new material, and to invite students to think more deeply about the relationships between themselves, books, media, and society.

Throughout the year, an essential question in the course is, “In what ways do time and place influence the story, narrator, or character(s)?” Social issues are related to time and/or place.

When we study narrative writing, we focus on telling a story about starting high school, writing about how individuals are being shaped by their educational experiences in 2018-19. We notice how the writers of the books we read create structures, settings, tension, and release in their work, and we try out some of their techniques in our narratives.

When we study literary analysis, we focus on how writers create effects through their use of literary techniques, then we write essays in which we employ rhetorical devices to convey our own interpretations of a work of fiction.

Having been introduced to many literary, rhetorical, and writing concepts in written text, it is now time to venture off the page and into the screen, to become more media literate. While it is crucial for our students to be strong readers on physical media, it is also essential for students to be able to understand the media they consume nearly every waking hour of the day.

Since students are required to read paper books every day, I like to use this unit as a way for students to further their knowledge about books they might like to read.

How It Works

I start where my students are–in their own reading. I ask students to reflect on the books they’ve read this year and list 5 social issues that appear in their reading.

Students then move into working with partners, talking about the books and social issues that appear in them. Together, they select a social issue to be the focus of their research question:

What can we learn from exploring media about books focused on a social issue?
What argument does the media make about the book? HOW?
Does the media make us want to read the book?

Then students investigate media ABOUT BOOKS related to their social issue, identifying the ways that media uses a variety of persuasive techniques to influence the audience.

What do I mean by media? ANYTHING! Is there an author’s or publisher’s website for a book? A trailer? A review? An author interview? I trailer for another work of art that was inspired by the book? An author’s social media account? A book list? A blurb? A poster? A billboard? A flash mob video? A fan trailer? A TED talk? A parody? Anything goes, really, as long as it can get through the school’s web filter and be linked to from the student document. I love the freedom of choice this gives students, as well as the potential for a grand array of mini-genre conferences as I point out the genre, language, and media conventions of various artifacts that are collected.

As I prepare for this unit, I remember what I learned from  C3WP about text sets:

A C3WP Text Set is a collection of texts chosen intentionally for use in a C3WP mini-unit or cycle of writing.  The texts are grouped by topic and content and present a range of positions, information, and perspectives with which a student can make and support a claim. –NWP College, Career, and Community Writers Program

I decide to create a text set, so that I can use the texts in mini-lessons in analyzing text features. In addition, I can post the text set in the Google Classroom, so that if students don’t have ideas about where to start, they can start with media about books that are in my classroom library. I collect texts on books I have read, except in one case. Hostage by Guy Lisle is on my Someday Books List. I might use that one to talk about why I read a particular book at a particular time. In the case of Hostage, I intend to read it, but I need to be at a low-stress period of life; it might be a good summer read.

It is my hope that most students will create their own texts sets: media that they’ve discovered about books on a social issue, but if it helps them to be able to move on to the point where they can focus on the analysis of the media, I am glad to have curated this text set, and I am looking forward to using it to help students discover and understand the persuasive power of media.

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Turning a No into a Yes! with Kwame Alexander

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Virginia Euwer Wolff website, author of Make Lemonade Series

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#NotYourPrincess by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Beth Leatherdale

Hostage by Guy Delisle

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My year of reading African women, by Gary Younge

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