One of our Core Principles at Blue Oak School is building from a foundation. Building on their foundation of literacy and research skills this year, fifth graders participated in an Argument and Advocacy Reading Workshop Unit. This unit aims to support our fifth graders in reading more complex and challenging nonfiction, while also supporting them in becoming more active citizens. In today’s society, with incredible amounts of information (and opinions) at our fingertips, it is important to have citizens who think for themselves. Blue Oak students learn that before having an opinion about something, they need to understand the whole issue. In order to do this, they must become informed through inquiry, question what they read, and think deeply about the topic.

In this unit, students learned how to evaluate argument texts. First, they brainstormed provocative issues which are relevant to their lives and our current world. They then were assigned an issue which they were interested in and that could be considered from multiple perspectives.

Some of the topics included:

  • Should kids under the age of 16 have access to cellphones?
  • Should kids have homework?
  • Should zoos be banned?
  • Should college in the United States be free?
  • Should we have stricter gun control laws? (This one was changed for the sake of sharing at community meeting, however the group is still researching this in class)

Fifth graders then made a research plan, and began reading articles that offered an “overview” of their topics, before diving into one-sided perspectives. They participated in flash debates, learned how to cycle through reading, thinking in response, raising questions, and reading more to understand. They did this through talking to others and writing about these issues.

The unit ended with the groups debating at Community Meeting with their strongest reasons and evidence. Some of the students had to take a side they did not necessarily agree with for the sake of debate. They worked through ranking their evidence to be the best and most reliable it could be, often quoting experts in the field. They took turns stating their reasons and evidence. Back in class, they will be working on forming a rebuttal for the arguments from the other side.

Finally, fifth graders will write an argumentative essay in which they organize their reasons and evidence in written form, with an introduction, three body paragraphs, and a conclusion. They will also include a paragraph to address the readers’ concerns and offer counter arguments.

Following the debates, many in our audience were eager to know, “Who was the winner?” It’s important to recognize that these debates aren’t about triumph or defeat; rather, they aim to find common ground where both sides can come together. Our fifth graders depart from these discussions not with a winner, but with a richer comprehension of nuanced issues. They’re understanding the intricacies of real-life problems, having more of a capacity for balanced and reasoned perspectives as they navigate future challenges.