Argumentation Basics

July 6, 2019 No Comments

One of the biggest changes that occur in the shift to meet the intent of the Next Generation Science Standards is the role that students play in their own learning.  Students are no longer allowed to be passive participants in their own education.  Instead, students drive the learning.  This is especially apparent in the Science and Engineering Practice Engaging in an Argument Using Evidence.

Argumentation is a key practice in science because it allows scientists to determine the most plausible explanation when more than one possible explanation exists.  This is also a major difference between Engaging in an Argument and Constructing Explanations.  Argumentation is also important because it helps students to understand that science is an evolving understanding of the world around us rather than a collection of facts.

Engaging in an Argument


The Question, Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning

Most of us are familiar with the CER: Claim, Evidence, and Reasoning.  I am just going to briefly review it to make sure that we are all on the same page.

At some point in your instructional sequence, students will likely encounter questions that can be investigated.  Ideally, these questions are student generated. (Click here to read more about the Science and Engineering Practice Asking Questions)  Students will answer the question using evidence that they have collected in class.  This answer will be provided in the form of a simple statement, often referred to as the claim.

It’s also important to note that the claims should be causal instead of merely a statement of observation.  This is a great way to tie in the Crosscutting Concept Cause and Effect and thus the third dimension.  (Click here to learn more about three-dimensional learning.)

Students can gather evidence in a wide range of ways in your classroom.  They can analyze data on a graph or conduct an investigation.  Students can find evidence in their reading, videos or other components of the class.

Students will use this evidence to support their claim and need to provide reasoning to connect the evidence and the claim.

Students struggle with reasoning.

While students can generally provide a claim and evidence, they struggle with creating reasoning.  This may be due in part to how we define reasoning for them.  When I first started teaching students to include reasoning, I asked them to connect the evidence with the claim.  I noticed students were restating the evidence without including much reasoning.  When I dug a little deeper, students believed that the evidence that they had provided made this connection apparent.  While these connections may be apparent to them, they must make these connections explicit.

I redefined reasoning by asking them to tell me what the evidence means.  I also asked them to go beyond this basic explanation and provide a greater connection.  I started asking my students to include a definition, scientific principle or outside research.   Once I included this component, their reasoning improved dramatically.

I also had them do a simple activity where they identified the claim, evidence, and reasoning in different arguments.  This helped them to see that the reasoning was more difficult to identify because it discussed the evidence and the claim.  They were also able to see what a well-structured argument might look like.


Click here to find this resource in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.

Don’t forget the argument in argumentation.

In order for students to actually engage in an argument, there should be some uncertainty in the accuracy of their claim.  If there is no uncertainty, students are simply constructing explanations.  Ultimately, students should be able to explain why their explanation is the most accurate and other explanations are not.

Once students are comfortable with formulating a claim, evidence, and reasoning, they should start developing the ability to craft a rebuttal.   You can start by providing students with two or more potential arguments in order to provide an alternate account.  You can also create a debate-style situation where students are arguing for or against a scientific advancement that may cause an ethical concern.

Either way, students will need to listen to the argument crafted by the other side and find evidence against that argument.  This provides the opportunity for a much more rich style of argumentation.  (This is also an excellent way to incorporate both listening and speaking English Language Development Standards.)

How do you help students to engage in argumentation in your classroom?




Erin Sadler

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