Notebook. On the left is text highlighted in three separate colors for the claim evidence reasoning. On the right side page, there is an explanation of the what the claim, evidence and reasoning is.

5 New Ideas for Improving the Practice of Engaging in an Argument from Evidence

July 11, 2022 No Comments

Argumentation helps scientists to understand the world around them. Also, it is a tool that we use in our everyday lives to improve our understanding of a subject. However, argumentation was absent in previous versions of the standards. Here is some background information on the practices as well as five ways to help your students with the practice of Engaging in an Argument from Evidence in your classroom.

What is the practice of Engaging in an Argument from Evidence?

Engaging in an Argument from Evidence is one of the eight NGSS Science and Engineering Practices. In this practice, scientists discuss potential explanations for a phenomenon or solutions to a problem. Through this process, they come up with the best explanation or solution.

This is an important practice in both the science and engineering community. However, previous versions of science standards did not include argumentation. Or, argumentation was de-emphasized. In the K-12 Science Framework, the authors identified this as a missing component. As a result, this practice became one of the eight Science and Engineering Practices.

Frequently Asked Questions About the Practice of Engaging in an Argument from Evidence

Often, there are many questions about this practice. Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions.

What are the parts of a Scientific Argument?

There are four major parts of a scientific argument. However, we are most familiar with the first three. These components are the claim, evidence, and reasoning components. The fourth, the rebuttal, is often forgotten. However, this is an important part of argumentation.

Title: Parts of an Argument C- Claim, E-Evidence, R-Reasoning, R-Rebuttal

Often, the argumentation process starts with a question. Usually, there are multiple potential answers to the question. These potential answers are known as claims. Evidence usually comes in the form of data or observations and reasoning explains the relationships between evidence and the claims. In the final component, the students refute the other claim.

Why is Engaging in an Argument from Evidence an important practice?

Argumentation is a practice that brings clarity to an idea, explanation, or solution. More often than not, there is more than one probable explanation or solution. So, this practice is used to determine which explanation is best supported or which solution is most effective.

Navy text on blue background - Did you know?  Image below - condensation on the top of a can.
Did you know that many students believe that condensation come from inside of a beverage? When helping students construct arguments, it’s important to know what misconceptions they have about the concepts.

For example, teachers often ask students to provide an explanation for why condensation forms on the outside of a cold glass. There are two common explanations for why this occurs. First, students will argue that some of the moisture has seeped out from the inside of the container. Or, they may understand that water particles in the air are moving closer together and therefore becoming more visible.

While students often believe that the incorrect explanation is true, it can easily be refuted by observations. For example, if the liquid inside the cup has a color, the condensation does not have color. So, argumentation is a tool that provides clarity and can be used to determine which explanation is correct.

What is the difference between argumentation and constructing and explanation?

Argumentation is used when there is more than one possible explanation or solution. Evidence is used to support a claim. Often, this evidence comes in the form of data.

On the other hand, explanations occur when there is one correct answer that is not in dispute. Students use scientific facts, theories, and principles that are believed to be true to construct their explanations.

5 Ways to Improve the Practice of Engaging in an Argument from Evidence

Many teachers are unfamiliar with the practice of engaging in an argument from evidence. And, other teachers only use the CER framework. Here are some ideas for improving this practice in the classroom.

1) Step back to a previous grade-level band.

This is one of my favorite strategies for scaffolding Science and Engineering Practices. Simply look at the NSTA Matrix for the Practices. Then, look at what students should have learned in previous grade levels. Often, students did not have access to this content. Or, they didn’t reach proficiency when they were first exposed. Therefore, the previous grade-level band is a great place to start looking for ideas for scaffolding.

For example, I find that most of my middle school students arrive in my classroom without having used the SEPs at all. So, starting in the middle school grade band is difficult for them. But, using the elementary grade band is incredibly helpful.

The K-12 Progression for Engaging in an Argument from Evidence

Let’s spend some time looking at what this practice looks like at each grade-level band. Like the other practices, there are four grade bands for this practice. These are early elementary (K-2), upper elementary (3-5), middle school (6-8), and high school (9-12).

For example, my middle school students are generally unfamiliar with the practice of argumentation when they enter my classroom. So, I provide them with activities from the upper elementary grade band to help them understand the practice. Then, when they demonstrate proficiency in the lower grade level band, I start to provide them with activities in the middle school grade band.

Below, I have included a few subcomponents from each grade level band.

Title: Engaging in an argument from evidence K-12 Progression.  This is a slightly condensed version of the text below.

Early Elementary

  • Distinguish between related and unrelated evidence and explain why the evidence is or isn’t related.
  • Determine if an argument is supported by evidence.
  • Agree or disagree with arguments.

Upper Elementary

  • Compare arguments using evidence.
  • Provide and receive arguments based on evidence.
  • Support an Argument with Evidence

Middle School

  • Compare and critique two different arguments and provide critiques of the arguments of others.
  • Construct written and oral arguments that support a claim with evidence and reasoning.
  • Refute a claim, model, or explanation.

To learn more about what this practice looks like in middle school, check out this blog post.

High School

  • Evaluate currently accepted explanations in light of new information, ethical issues, and or limitations.
  • Present oral and written arguments as well as counterarguments.
  • Evaluate differing solutions to design problems.

2) Have students identify components of an argument.

If students have trouble constructing an argument, show them a sample argument. Then, have them identify the common components of the argument.

For example, when I introduce the practice of Engaging in an Argument From Evidence, I introduce the first three parts of an argument. Then, I present students with a few sample arguments. Finally, I ask students to identify the claim, evidence, and reasoning in each of the arguments that are presented.

This activity helps students to recognize the different components. But also, provides students with an exemplar of a written argument. Ultimately, this helps them to build better arguments when they begin constructing their own.

Below is an image of the resource that I use to do this activity with my middle school students. To grab this activity from my Teachers Pay Teachers Store, click here.

Notebook.  On the left is text highlighted in three separate colors for the claim evidence reasoning.  On the right side page, there is an explanation of the what the claim, evidence and reasoning is.

3) Ask students to highlight the claim, evidence, and reasoning in their own argument.

Often, I ask students to create a written argument using the CER format. Then, I have them highlight their own claim, evidence, and reasoning in their argument.

This strategy helps students to self-check their written arguments to see if they have each component. Also, it helps me understand which component they may be struggling with.

For example, some students restate the claim instead of providing evidence. Initially, I provided students with feedback stating that their reasoning was missing. However, because they identified this statement as reasoning, I am able to see that they don’t understand what reasoning is. Therefore, I can provide them with more helpful feedback.

4) Give students the opportunity to review and respectfully critique their peer’s arguments.

Providing students with constructive feedback is helpful in improving their arguments. However, it is very time-consuming to provide students with meaningful feedback. One way to help students get feedback is to help their peers to provide some of the feedback.

Provide scaffolding to help students review their peer’s arguments.

Without the proper scaffolding, peer review might not be very meaningful. However, there are several ways that you can scaffold this process to students provide meaningful feedback to their peers. Here are just a few:

  • Ask students to use a rubric that you have created.
  • Provide sentence stems to give them ideas about what constructive feedback looks like.
  • Model the review process for them. Review a sample argument together before asking them to review and argument on their own.
  • Have students review arguments in teams of 3-4. This way students will give feedback to and receive feedback from more than one peer.
  • Make sure that students understand the purpose of peer review.

There are a few other things to consider when using peer feedback in your classroom. For example, the review process should only provide students with feedback. Students should not be responsible for issuing grades to their peers. Also, it might make sense to anonymize the arguments and/or the feedback in your classroom. For instance, students could use an identifying number on their argument rather than their name in order to maintain anonymity.

5) Don’t just focus on written argumentation.

When students engage in argumentation, it’s important that they have the opportunity to engage in both written and oral arguments. Unfortunately, many teachers only provide the opportunity for students to engage in oral written arguments. Discussions provide students with the opportunity for students to get feedback from their peers in real-time.

Using the CER Framework for Engaging in an Argument

One of the ways to structure student arguments is to use the CER framework. This Framework helps students to understand the parts of an argument. And, it helps them create written arguments that are well-structured and organized.

While this is an excellent framework for teaching the practice of engaging in an argument from evidence, it isn’t without its challenges. For example, most teachers create argumentation lessons that are too simple. As a result, students write weak arguments.

If you’d like help creating well-thought-out scenarios for your CERs, click here.

More Resources for Engaging in an Argument from Evidence

Here are a few more resources that can help you with this and other practices.

Erin Sadler

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