Using Jefferson to Model Argument Writing

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I don’t need to make the case that providing students with models of good writing can be a powerful tool for improving their work. That’s why I want to feature in this Buried Treasures post the Argument Writing section from inContext, our massive network of terms, definitions, and activities that help students make sense of English language arts.

inContext addresses the full range of English language arts skills.

In the section called Writing, students can explore six categories of information, including Writing Process, Grammar, Language Mechanics, Sentences, Essay, and, most importantly for my purpose here, Writing Types.

One of the types included is Argument Writing, which is where students will learn how to argue effectively and discover the unexpected treasure.

inContext encourages students to follow four components of an argument:

  1. Introduce the issue to be argued.
  2. Create an expectation for the reader.
  3. Fulfill that expectation using logic.
  4. Conclude by reexamining the argument.

inContext demonstrates four stages in writing an argument.

Of course, a model illustrating these stages would be useful here, and students may be surprised to find that the example of effective argument we feature is Thomas Jefferson’s The Declaration of Independence.

When students examine how Jefferson introduces his argument, they see that he clarifies the importance of his position in his first sentence: American leaders are writing to “dissolve the political bands which have connected them” to Great Britain.

The first step in introducing an argument is to clarify its importance.

Another step in introducing the issue is to identify conflicting viewpoints. As you can guess, Jefferson addresses this requirement early on as well:


Jefferson identifies the conflicting viewpoints as he introduces his argument.

This pattern continues as Jefferson creates his expectation, fulfills it in his list of grievances, and concludes with this grave assessment: “Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury.”

Students hoping to find a model for writing an argument could do no better than to read Jefferson’s famous letter to King George—along with this treasure of an organizer demonstrating the logic of his argument.

Check out these additional resources about developing an argument:

Defining and Assessing Argumentation
Quick Tutorials: Clear Thinking
Logical Fallacies

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Terry Hardison

Terry Hardison oversees the development of English language arts resources for Curriculum Pathways. Prior to joining SAS, Terry worked for 21 years as a teacher and as a district-level English language arts supervisor.

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