Persuasive Essay Evaluation

Argumentative Essays


The Modes of Discourse—Exposition, Description, Narration, Argumentation (EDNA)—are common paper assignments you may encounter in your writing classes. Although these genres have been criticized by some composition scholars, the Purdue OWL recognizes the wide spread use of these approaches and students’ need to understand and produce them.

Contributors: Jack Baker, Allen Brizee, Elizabeth Angeli
Last Edited: 2013-03-10 11:46:44

What is an argumentative essay?

The argumentative essay is a genre of writing that requires the student to investigate a topic; collect, generate, and evaluate evidence; and establish a position on the topic in a concise manner.

Please note: Some confusion may occur between the argumentative essay and the expository essay. These two genres are similar, but the argumentative essay differs from the expository essay in the amount of pre-writing (invention) and research involved. The argumentative essay is commonly assigned as a capstone or final project in first year writing or advanced composition courses and involves lengthy, detailed research. Expository essays involve less research and are shorter in length. Expository essays are often used for in-class writing exercises or tests, such as the GED or GRE.

Argumentative essay assignments generally call for extensive research of literature or previously published material. Argumentative assignments may also require empirical research where the student collects data through interviews, surveys, observations, or experiments. Detailed research allows the student to learn about the topic and to understand different points of view regarding the topic so that she/he may choose a position and support it with the evidence collected during research. Regardless of the amount or type of research involved, argumentative essays must establish a clear thesis and follow sound reasoning.

The structure of the argumentative essay is held together by the following.

  • A clear, concise, and defined thesis statement that occurs in the first paragraph of the essay.

In the first paragraph of an argument essay, students should set the context by reviewing the topic in a general way. Next the author should explain why the topic is important (exigence) or why readers should care about the issue. Lastly, students should present the thesis statement. It is essential that this thesis statement be appropriately narrowed to follow the guidelines set forth in the assignment. If the student does not master this portion of the essay, it will be quite difficult to compose an effective or persuasive essay.

  • Clear and logical transitions between the introduction, body, and conclusion.

Transitions are the mortar that holds the foundation of the essay together. Without logical progression of thought, the reader is unable to follow the essay’s argument, and the structure will collapse. Transitions should wrap up the idea from the previous section and introduce the idea that is to follow in the next section.

  • Body paragraphs that include evidential support.

Each paragraph should be limited to the discussion of one general idea. This will allow for clarity and direction throughout the essay. In addition, such conciseness creates an ease of readability for one’s audience. It is important to note that each paragraph in the body of the essay must have some logical connection to the thesis statement in the opening paragraph. Some paragraphs will directly support the thesis statement with evidence collected during research. It is also important to explain how and why the evidence supports the thesis (warrant).

However, argumentative essays should also consider and explain differing points of view regarding the topic. Depending on the length of the assignment, students should dedicate one or two paragraphs of an argumentative essay to discussing conflicting opinions on the topic. Rather than explaining how these differing opinions are wrong outright, students should note how opinions that do not align with their thesis might not be well informed or how they might be out of date.

  • Evidential support (whether factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal).

The argumentative essay requires well-researched, accurate, detailed, and current information to support the thesis statement and consider other points of view. Some factual, logical, statistical, or anecdotal evidence should support the thesis. However, students must consider multiple points of view when collecting evidence. As noted in the paragraph above, a successful and well-rounded argumentative essay will also discuss opinions not aligning with the thesis. It is unethical to exclude evidence that may not support the thesis. It is not the student’s job to point out how other positions are wrong outright, but rather to explain how other positions may not be well informed or up to date on the topic.

  • A conclusion that does not simply restate the thesis, but readdresses it in light of the evidence provided.

It is at this point of the essay that students may begin to struggle. This is the portion of the essay that will leave the most immediate impression on the mind of the reader. Therefore, it must be effective and logical. Do not introduce any new information into the conclusion; rather, synthesize the information presented in the body of the essay. Restate why the topic is important, review the main points, and review your thesis. You may also want to include a short discussion of more research that should be completed in light of your work.

A complete argument

Perhaps it is helpful to think of an essay in terms of a conversation or debate with a classmate. If I were to discuss the cause of World War II and its current effect on those who lived through the tumultuous time, there would be a beginning, middle, and end to the conversation. In fact, if I were to end the argument in the middle of my second point, questions would arise concerning the current effects on those who lived through the conflict. Therefore, the argumentative essay must be complete, and logically so, leaving no doubt as to its intent or argument.

The five-paragraph essay

A common method for writing an argumentative essay is the five-paragraph approach. This is, however, by no means the only formula for writing such essays. If it sounds straightforward, that is because it is; in fact, the method consists of (a) an introductory paragraph (b) three evidentiary body paragraphs that may include discussion of opposing views and (c) a conclusion.

Longer argumentative essays

Complex issues and detailed research call for complex and detailed essays. Argumentative essays discussing a number of research sources or empirical research will most certainly be longer than five paragraphs. Authors may have to discuss the context surrounding the topic, sources of information and their credibility, as well as a number of different opinions on the issue before concluding the essay. Many of these factors will be determined by the assignment.

Student Objectives

Session 1: The Game of Persuasion

Session 2: Analysis of an Argument

Session 3: Persuasive Writing

Session 4: Presenting the Persuasive Writing


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • Work in cooperative groups to brainstorm ideas and organize them into a cohesive argument to be presented to the class

  • Gain knowledge of the different strategies that are used in effective persuasive writing

  • Use a graphic organizer to help them begin organizing their ideas into written form

  • Apply what they have learned to write a persuasive piece that expresses their stance and reasoning in a clear, logical sequence

  • Develop oral presentation skills by presenting their persuasive writing pieces to the class

  • Analyze the work of others to see if it contains effective persuasive techniques

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Session 1: The Game of Persuasion

1.Post the chart you created where students can see it (see Preparation, Step 3). Distribute sticky notes, and ask students to write their names on the notes. Call students up to the chart to place their notes in the column that expresses their opinion.

2.After everyone has had a chance to put their name on the chart, look at the results and discuss how people have different views about various topics and are entitled to their opinions. Give students a chance to share the reasons behind their choices.

3.Once students have shared, explain that sometimes when you believe in something, you want others to believe in it also and you might try to get them to change their minds. Ask students the following question: “Does anyone know the word for trying to convince someone to change his or her mind about something?” Elicit from students the word persuade.

4.Explain to students that they are going to play a game that will help them understand how persuasive arguments work.

5.Follow these rules of the game:

  • Have students get into their groups.

  • Explain that sometimes when you play games the winner gets a reward and that at the end of this game the winning team will get the reward you have chosen (see Preparation, Step 1).

  • Have each team choose a recorder, or designate a recorder for each team yourself. The recorder's job is to write down the team's arguments.

  • Tell students that they must work together as a team for 15 to 20 minutes to come up with the best reason why the class should award their group the prize. Their reasons can be serious or playful.

  • Use a signal to let them know when to begin and when time is up.

  • Have students present their arguments. Students can either present as a group or choose one person to be their speaker.

  • Have the judge decide on a winning group or ask students to vote for a group other than themselves that had a convincing argument.

Note: While students are working, there should be little interference from you. This is a time for students to discover what they already know about persuasive arguments. Use the Observations and Notes handout as you listen in to groups and make notes about their arguments. This will help you see what students know and also provide examples to point out during Session 2 (see Step 4).

Home/School Connection: Distribute Persuasion Is All Around You. Students are to find an example of a persuasive piece from the newspaper, television, radio, magazine, or billboards around town and be ready to report back to class during Session 2. Provide a selection of magazines or newspapers with advertisements for students who may not have materials at home. For English-language learners (ELLs), it may be helpful to show examples of advertisements and articles in newspapers and magazines.

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Session 2: Analysis of an Argument

1.Begin by asking students to share their homework. You can have them share as a class, in their groups from the previous session, or in partners.

2.After students have shared, explain that they are going to get a chance to examine the arguments that they made during Session 1 to find out what strategies they already know how to use.

3.Pass out the Persuasive Strategy Definitions to each student. Tell students that you are going to explain each definition through a PowerPoint presentation.

4.Read through each slide in the Persuasive Strategy PowerPoint Presentation. Discuss the meaning and how students used those strategies in their arguments during Session 1. Use your observations and notes to help students make connections between their arguments and the persuasive strategies. It is likely your students used many of the strategies, and did not know it. For example, imagine the reward for the winning team was 10 extra minutes of recess. Here is one possible argument:

“Our classmate Sarah finally got her cast taken off. She hasn’t been able to play outside for two months. For 60 days she’s had to go sit in the nurse’s office while we all played outside. Don’t you think it would be the greatest feeling for Sarah to have 10 extra minutes of recess the first week of getting her cast off?”

This group is trying to appeal to the other students’ emotions. This is an example of pathos.

5.As you discuss the examples from the previous session, have students write them in the box next to each definition on the Persuasive Strategy Definitions sheet to help them remember each meaning.

Home/School Connection: Ask students to revisit their persuasive piece from Persuasion Is All Around You. This time they will use Check the Strategies to look for the persuasive strategies that the creator of the piece incorporated. Check for understanding with your ELLs and any special needs students. It may be helpful for them to talk through their persuasive piece with you or a peer before taking it home for homework. Arrange a time for any student who may not have the opportunity to complete assignments outside of school to work with you, a volunteer, or another adult at school on the assignment.

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Session 3: Persuasive Writing

1.Divide the class into groups of two or three students. Have each group member talk about the persuasive strategies they found in their piece.

2.After each group has had time to share with each other, go through each persuasive strategy and ask students to share any examples they found in their persuasive pieces with the whole class.

3.Explain to students that in this session they will be playing the game they played during Session 1 again; only this time they will be working with a partner to write their argument and there will be a different prize awarded to the winning team.

4.Share the Persuasive Writing Assessment with students and read through each category. Explain that you will be using this rubric to help evaluate their essays. Reassure students that if they have questions or if part of the rubric is unclear, you will help them during their conference.

5.Have students get together with the partners you have selected (see Preparation, Step 1).

6.Get students started on their persuasive writing by introducing them to the interactive Persuasion Map. This online graphic organizer is a prewriting exercise that enables students to map out their arguments for a persuasive essay.

  • Have partners enter their names and topics on the opening screen.

  • The goal or thesis is the claim or stance that they are taking on the issue.

  • Students should then brainstorm three reasons to support their claim, and facts and examples to support each reason.
Challenge students to use the persuasive strategies discussed during Session 2 in their writing. Remind students to print their maps before exiting as they cannot save their work online.

7.Have students begin writing their persuasive essays, using their printed Persuasion Maps as a guide. To maintain the spirit of the game, allow students to write their essays with their partner. Partners can either write each paragraph together taking turns being the scribe or each can take responsibility for different paragraphs in the essay. If partners decide to work on different parts of the essay, monitor them closely and help them to write transition sentences from one paragraph to the next. It may take students two sessions to complete their writing.

8.Meet with partners as they are working on their essays. During conferences you can:

  • Ask students to show you the persuasive strategies they are using

  • Guide students to use a variety of persuasive strategies

  • Make sure students are using their Persuasion Map as a guide

  • Check their supporting facts and examples for accuracy

  • Help groups write an interesting beginning and ending

  • Encourage partners to read their paragraphs to and provide feedback for each other

  • Edit for grammar and mechanics

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Session 4: Presenting the Persuasive Writing

1.During this session, partners will present their written argument to the class. Before students present, hand out the Check the Strategy sheet. This checklist is the same one they used for homework after Session 2. Direct students to mark off the strategies they hear in each presentation.

2.Use the Observations and Notes sheet to record your observations.

3.After each set of partners presents, ask the audience to share any persuasive strategies they heard in the argument.

4.After all partners have presented, have students vote for the argument other than their own that they felt was most convincing.

5.Tally the votes and award the prize to the winning team. To end this session, ask students to discuss something new they have learned about persuasive arguments and something they want to work on to become better at persuasive arguments.

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  • Endangered Species: Persuasive Writing offers a way to integrate science with persuasive writing. Have students pretend that they are reporters and have to convince people to think the way they do. Have them pick issues related to endangered species, use the Persuasion Map as a prewriting exercise, and write essays trying to convince others of their points of view. In addition, the lesson “Persuasive Essay: Environmental Issues” can be adapted for your students as part of this exercise.

  • Have students write persuasive arguments for a special class event, such as an educational field trip or an in-class educational movie. Reward the class by arranging for the class event suggested in one of the essays.

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  • Compare your Observations and Notes from Session 4 and Session 1 to see if students understand the persuasive strategies, use any new persuasive strategies, seem to be overusing a strategy, or need more practice refining the use of a strategy. Offer them guidance and practice as needed.

  • Collect both homework assignments and the Check the Strategy sheets and assess how well students understand the different elements of persuasive writing and how they are applied.

  • Collect students’ Persuasion Maps and use them and your discussions during conferences to see how well students understand how to use the persuasive strategies and are able to plan their essays. You want to look also at how well they are able to make changes from the map to their finished essays.

  • Use the Persuasive Writing Assessment to evaluate the essays students wrote during Session 3.

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