Teaching Argument- 2011 Workshop

Presenter: Nancy Fox

Experiencing Argument

Consider the following scenario in relation to your role (assigned by session leader to each group) in the argument.  Carefully consider and weigh the values and assumptions you can safely assume your character(s) hold.  During our argument, we will identify terms associated with writing arguments while discovering the importance of audience.

Scenario:  Your school’s football team is going to compete for the championship for the first time in the school’s history. Two days before leaving for the championship, your star quarterback attended a pre-championship party and was photographed (supposedly) chugging a beer.  The photo was posted on Facebook and soon officials at the school learned about the incident.  According to school rules, underage drinking is an offence that warrants dismissal from school and possible expulsion.  Since this is the young quarterback’s first offence, football coaches are pleading for leniency; they want the penalty to be applied the next school year so he can play in the championship.  Others believe that the penalty should be applied immediately because not doing so would condone the violation and show preference toward athletes. 

Within your group, construct an argument according to your character’s values and assumptions.


List of Terms used in Argument

As we discuss our scenario, become familiar with the use of the following terms:

Claim or Stated Reason = Thesis or Assertion

Warrant or Backing = Underlying Assumptions

Grounds or Evidence = Support for the Claim

Concession = Acknowledging another’s claim has some credence; develops an identification        with your audience

Rebuttal = Counter Claims = Refuting another’s argument


Considering Audience

A writer’s audience is the most important consideration in an argument; the way an author manages his or her audience determines the argument’s effectiveness.  Considering audience teaches critical thinking skills that transcend classroom experiences and prepares students for the work world.  We will discuss the ways academia approaches composition and the writing problems students face when entering academia.

Using Movie Clips to Demonstrate Audience

The Paul Thomas film There Will Be Blood offers a lesson in how people alter their rhetorical voice in order to effectively appeal to their audience.  The first passage is the opening to the movie, and the second passage appears half way through the movie.  While reading these passages, ask the questions:

  • What is the character’s motivation?
  • Why does he say what he says?
  • What does the character focus on in his speech?
  • Is the character being honest? Why or why not?
  • Do his speeches reflect contemporary society?
  • What current problems or trends could encourage production of this film?


Passage 1

Passage 2

After answering questions concerning audience, discuss how the diction in each passage changes in accordance with its audience.

This exercise can also be visual.  Below are two Youtube trailers for the same movie that are geared toward difference audiences. 

Twilight trailers

Action packed trailer for Twilight: Eclipse:  


 Love story trailer for Twilight: Eclipse:



Defining audience:

Based upon our earlier argument about posting Facebook pictures and banning Facebook on school campuses, gage your audiences’ perspective: the jaded faculty member, the coaches, the administration, other athletes, etc. 

Audience Analysis Questions

  • A nalysis – Who are they?
  • U nderstanding – What is their knowledge of the subject?
  • D emographics – What is their age, sex, educational background?
  • I nterest – Why are they reading your document?
  • E nvironment – Where will this document be sent (inside/outside the company)?
  • N eeds – What are the audience’s needs?
  • C ustomized – What specific needs do you need to address?
  • E xpectations – What does the audience expect to learn from you?

Voice and Style Affect a Writer’s Credibility (Ethos)

One aspect of voice that students struggle with in academic writing is person which refers to the perspective or point of view of the writer’s voice.  A writer can write from a first, second, or third person, singular or plural perspective:

First person, singular:  I woke up.  I made my bed.  I am going to work. I feel great.

First person, plural:  We wake up every day.  We go to work.  We do our best.

Second person, singular or plural:  You woke up.  You made your bed.  You are going to work. You look great.

Third person, singular and plural mixed:  They woke up.  He looks refreshed.  She feels great.  The sun comes up around 6:30 in June.  It shines brightly.


In academic writing, especially in reports and arguments, writers most commonly use the “third person” point of view or perspective.  The reasons for this include 1) the third-person perspective which creates a tone of objectivity and can help the writer sound unbiased, and 2) the third-person perspective which puts emphasis on the subject the writer is discussing rather than on the writer or the reader.

Depending on what they need to say, writers can shift between first, second, and third person.  However, depending on the assignment, instructors may restrict students to writing in third-person only. Students always need to clarify with their instructor what his or her requirements and rules are for using first, second, and third-person in their writing assignments.

Exercise I 

Exercise II


A fallacy is a defect of unsound or incomplete reasoning in an argument or communication.  Fallacies weaken an argument, render it susceptible to attack, and damage the credibility of the writer or speaker.  Students need to be familiar with common fallacies so they can avoid them in their own argumentative essays and, just as importantly, identify them others’ arguments.

The following list includes some common fallacies. 

  • Hasty Generalization:  This argument draws a conclusion based on insufficient or inappropriate sampling
  • Either/Or Reasoning:  This argument suggests only two alternatives exist when more than two actually exist: there is always grey area
  • False Analogy:  This argument is based on a comparison of two things sharing few or no common features
  • Argumentum ad Hominem:  The Latin phrase means argument against the man and names the fallacy of attacking the person rather than his argument.
  • Argumentum ad Populum:  Politicians and advertisers, in particular, use “appeal to the people.”  This fallacy ignores the issue at hand and appeals to the loyalties and fears of the audience.
  • Appeal to Ignorance:  This argument implies that a particular claim must be false since no one has proven it true; or, since no one has disproven a claim, it must be true.  This fallacy usually involves an impossible to prove or unproven matter.
  • The Straw Man Fallacy:  This fallacy occurs when a person misinterprets or distorts an opponent’s position to make attack easier, or when a person attacks weaker opponents while ignoring stronger ones.
  • Bandwagon: This fallacy claims that something cannot be true (or false) because a majority of people support (or oppose) it.  Based on popular opinion, the argument appeals to prejudice and ignores the facts.
  • Slippery Slope:  This argument is based on an unlikely chain reaction; it rests on an alleged chain of events without reason to believe the implied effect will actually occur.
  • Selective Sampling:  This fallacy offers proof that contains part of, but not the whole truth.  Since all the facts are not presented, the claim can be true and false (misleading?) at the same time (half-truths).
  • Unreliable Testimony:  This is an argument based on an untrustworthy, biased, or unqualified authority.
  • False Cause:  This argument confuses a causal relationship.  For example, one might mistake a contributory cause for a sufficient one, or assume that because one event occurred before a second event, the first caused the second (Post Hoc, ergo Propter Hoc fallacy, a Latin phrase meaning after this; therefore because of this). 

After reviewing the meaning of each fallacy, listen and name any fallacies in a conversation between two English instructors.  Remember fallacies’ meanings can overlap, so some fallacies used in conversation can become multiple.

Students fall into fallacies when they do not have research and they have not critically thought about their position.  Learning to recognize fallacies is essential for writing with strong ethos and writing with solid, logical evidence.  Fallacies damage and can destroy the credibility of the argument and the writer.  The critical thinking skills involved in discerning fallacies carry students beyond summarizing to effectively analyzing and critically scrutinizing their arguments and others’ arguments.


Works Cited

Ramage, John D., John C. Bean, and June Johnson.  Writing Arguments 4th edition. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2007.  Print.

Tasker Davis, Elizabeth and Nancy J. Fox, Eds. Lumberjacks Write! 3rd  edition. Nacogdoches: SFA Press, 2010.  Print.

Movie Clips for audience demonstration:


Twilight trailers Action packed trailer for Twilight: Eclipse: 


 Love story trailer for Twilight: Eclipse:



Helpful writing websites:

Online Writing Lab @ Purdue University



Google searches provide examples of assignments:

Search: example college student argument essay =    http://www.roanestate.edu/owl/Types.html