Oct 14, 15, 21

Background information

The choice of the topic to be studied was not dictated by deep reflections or considerations; it was just one of the topics in our student book. A book unit dealt with expressions used in debates (e.g. as far as I am concerned, the point is that, if you ask me, etc.). So I decided that it would be relevant to put forward an aim of helping students develop skills to debate. Students were given a hometask: prepare at least 5 arguments ‘for’ and ‘against’ for the statement Facebook should be forbidden for minors.
During the lesson I offered students a clear procedure for debates and roles for every student. They were divided in 2 groups and first of all had to share their ideas within the group and then we followed the established procedure for debates: Position presentation – cross-examination – Rebuttal – Conclusive comments. In general, the flow of the debate was not bad because rules were clear, we agreed on them, and the topic seemed attractive to students.
After the lesson I collected the arguments prepared by students and while reading them I realized that what I should focus on as a teacher at this point is not debating, but the core problem to work on is - building strong arguments.
Here are some examples of arguments that were written by students:

Facebook should be forbidden for minors because
- social network isn’t good for teenagers;
- person can meet friends on FB and forget about real friends;
- FB can cause addiction;
- you chat with a girl but in real life there might be a man;
- FB can damage physical health;
- You can meet people that it’s better not to meet.

Facebook should not be forbidden for minors because
- you can meet many interesting people and maybe friends;
- you can easily kill time;
- why to close FB for teenagers if the whole Internet is open for them;
- a teenager can find things he is interested in;
- this is an opportunity to communicate;
- parents can’t control children activities in social networks;
- children can be offended (there are some suicide incidents because of offenses).

While reading these arguments I thought of the possible lesson procedure.


  • Subject Aim: change debate-related vocabulary use by students from ‘do not use in their speech’ to ‘use occasionally’. 
  • Thinking Aim: change their awareness about the difference between ‘a strong argument’ and ‘a weak argument’. 
    • Problem: which ‘thinking model’ can I use to help see the difference?

Materials/tasks I am going to use

  • Arguments prepared by students about the statement ‘FB should be forbidden for minors’.

Procedures(how we worked: time, organisation, etc.)

  • A possible procedure would be to put down few examples of their arguments on the blackboard and discuss if the argument is strong or weak.
    • The problem at that stage was that I did not know myself what is the difference. Surfing the Internet did not help much. As it came to my mind later, we need to have an algorithm for building a strong argument. The algorithm that I offered students was developed right on the lesson while I was trying to make students evaluate their arguments.

If we say FB should be forbidden we need to outline the PROBLEM we see. The problem can be outlined only if we define CONFLITING ELEMENTS. Thus, a possible algorithm for building a strong argument might be:

  • Define the desired situation (what do we want and why)
  • Define the problem situation (what do we get instead of it because of the problem element) 
  • Define possible consequences of the problem situation 


  • DESIRED SIT.: We want teenagers to spend more time outside, doing sport and being active because it helps them to develop physically which is very important at their age.
  • PROBLEM SIT.: Because of spending too much time on FB [problem element] teenagers limit considerably the time they spend on active activities.
  • POSSIBLE CONSEQUENCES: As a result, they can develop poor physical health, etc.

If we say FB should NOT be forbidden for minors we need to outline that there is NO problem situation but the desired situation is actually strengthened. Thus, a possible algorithm for building a strong argument might be:

  • Define the desired situation (what do we want and why);
  • State how the element under discussion supports and strengthens the desired situation.


  • DESIRED SIT.: We want teenagers to know foreign languages and communicate with foreigners to develop their language skills;
  • SUPPORT OF DESIRED SIT.: FB has the function of having your account in different languages, it also allows to find friends all over the world and communicate with them. Thus teenagers can be exposed to foreign language and communication with native speakers. 

Students were given a new statement: Children should be hit in school as a punishment. They had to prepare at least 3 ‘for’ and ‘against’ arguments at home following the algorithm.
The next day, the had to present their arguments. As the result, only one student was trying to follow the algorithm and had ~2 arguments that more or less followed the algorithm. Other students still produced whatever-comes-to-my-mind.


On Oct 25 students had a test where they had to build 'for' and 'against' arguments on the statement Students should not be given homework tasks because it is pointless. Examples of students replies and teacher's assessment can be found here

Learners’ response and outputs (how they responded to the task and what they actually did in the lesson)
I would say students listened carefully to the suggested algorithm and looked interested. Some of them were trying to reformulate their arguments and as the result saw that it’s not that easy as producing whatever-comes-into-mind reply.

Teacher’s role (what the teacher actually did and how)
The teacher built an algorithm (in this case right during the lesson) for a more or less strong argument to help students see the difference between arguments and statements & strong and weak arguments.

Overall reflection on the lesson / task

Aim aspect (to what extent did we reach the aims?)
I would say that in the end, we managed to agree that the algorithm helps to structure their thoughts and build arguments. We have forgotten about the language aim because some students tried to use vocabulary but once asked to think in terms of the algorithm have forgotten about it.

Tasks & materials aspect (how did we work on the tasks to reach the aim? Please make specific references to the steps of the thinking task framework)
Step 1. The challenge was more or less present because I asked to evaluate arguments and they did not know how to do it.
Step 2. The tool (algorithm) for building strong arguments was introduced which helped to build better arguments. However, I am not sure this corresponds to Step 2 of the framework.
Step 3. Reflection was absent.

Questions / conclusions for the future

  • Which thinking models can be suggested for teaching ‘argumentation’? 
  • Is there any other thinking model that I could have introduced (for other purposes, for instance)? For example, I was thinking about the multiscreen model to help them see every situation from different point of views/levels (for instance, look at the problem of Facebook from the point of view of teenager himself, his friends, his parents, teachers, society, etc.). This looks more like point-of-view, but guess at this point I am confused about relationship between multi-screen, ENV and point-of-view. 
  • Does the suggested algorithm seem reasonable?


# Larisa Sardiko 2011-11-26 18:10
Thank you, Renata. Very reasonable background thinking, tasks and algorithm. The most difficult thing for me has always been making them feel they need HOW TO themselves. And I still do not how to do it. I think they need more practice in building and evaluating their arguments. I have been present at Irina's lesson where the pupils discussed the structure of a good argument and the criteria. Then built arguments and evaluated each other. This is an on-going process. Irina can help you, I am sure. Good luck!
# Renata Jonina 2011-11-27 12:20
Thank you for comment, Larisa. It shed another light on my problem. I had to build HOW TO with my students. Instead I acted more like a source of HOW TO making students less active in building and evaluating their arguments. Point to learn.
I agree, it is difficult to create challenge which leads to the need for HOW TO. I also find it very difficult to involve students in activity, I think that I "explain and give" instead of organising a discovery for them.
# Alexander Sokol 2011-12-03 20:33
Renata, quite a few things to comment. I will limit myself to some only.
I'm not sure we should be speaking of a thinking model for teaching sth. It's not about thinking models to help us teach them sth, but about thinking models to help them cope with the challenge. So, the fist question is where the challenge appears. Are the learners able build arguments at all? If not, this is probably the first thing where they can apply thnking models for developing an algorithm. Are they able to distinguish between a strong and a week argument? Again, room for an algorithm.
Which models you apply depends on where exactly you get stuck. For example, if students get stuck from the very beginning, I'd say that the ENV can be useful, as they've got to define Elements for which they will build arguments (eg a person), parameters of this element they want to consider (social skills, learning, etc) and the value of feature that will serve as a basis of the argument. Here, in fact, there's a good connection with your algorithm.
As to the quality of an algorithm, there's only one way to check - use it. If it works, it's good :)
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