Everyone has an opinion, especially 6th graders. Teachers should challenge students to assert their opinions on any topic. The teacher starts by simply posing the question as to whether a situation is good or bad? According to the late writing expert, Jane Schaffer, this basic black and white questioning model compels students to "take a stand" and make a solid assertion.
Make an Assertion
An assertion is the controlling idea of your argument. According to the Common Core Standards an assertion is the same as "arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence." The nature of this assertion should clearly and strongly state the point of view or opinion the student has on the subject. For instance in literature, if a character is being discussed a student may need to assert about the strength or weakness of that character. The teacher can simply ask 6th graders, "Is the character a good or bad person?" If an informational text is being discussed, the students must assert whether the key concept of the text is beneficial or damaging to society. A question a teacher may pose about global warming could be, "Is it real or not?"
Support the Assertion with Reasons
Now that the students have landed on an assertion for which they feel strongly, the next step is to back it up with clear reasoning. Ask the students why they believe in their assertion. Take the assertion and turn it into a question: "Why do you think the character is good?" Another example would be, "Why do you think global warming is real?" Students will discuss their reasons for their assertions. A good reason will explain or justify, compellingly and enthusiastically, why his assertion is correct. For example, the character is brave because he made a personal sacrifice, or global warming is real because there have been dramatic weather pattern shifts over the past decade.
Back up Reasons with Evidence
Students should support their assertions with strong evidence. Students excitedly respond to the chant, "Take a Stand and Give me 3!" This mantra helps students organize their assertions with clarity. Students find three pieces of evidence from the text to support the reason for their assertions. In literature, three facts could consist of evidence found in the text to support their assertions. For example, if students assert that the main character is a hero, then they find quotes from the text that show the brave and heroic actions or words of the character. Direct evidence from the novel "The Hunger Games" shows that Katniss sacrifices by "volunteering" to take her sister's place in the hunger games.
Assertion Shortcut: ARE
Students can remember the process for defending an assertion with the acronym "ARE." A is for "Assertion": Make an assertion by discussing, judging and deciding an opinion on an aspect of any text. R is for "Reason": Find a reason that strongly supports the assertion. E is for "Evidence": Find three pieces of evidence from the text that directly supports the reason.
Fun Activity for 6th Graders
"Candy Wars" created by Stephen Nicolini is an engaging activity for sixth graders to establish an assertion, find a reason and back it up with evidence. Students will get in groups and decide as a group what their favorite candy is. For instance, students could assert that Hershey's Kisses are the best candy because of the delicious taste. Next, students will find a strong reason, such as the delectable milk chocolate flavor. Finally, students will research Hershey's online, or call the candy-maker's corporate headquarters to find three facts to back up their reason. The phone call is a student favorite, as is eating the candy afterwards. Students can make a poster explaining their assertion, reason and evidence, using three pieces of their favorite candy.
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