Argument Writing Toolkit- Adding Compelling Evidence

This is the last post of this blog series!  Phew! It’s been a ride- 8 posts!  Each detailing a different strategy for helping students who struggle with adding evidence to their argument writing.  Let’s recap what’s been covered so far:

If students quote chunks of text that are too large…

…then use this strategy, Allowing Your Writing to Shine.

If students struggle to cut block quotes because they feel all the information is important…

…then see these two posts on Trimming Down Important Block Quotes by Paraphrasing or Using Ellipses.

If students string together multiple quotes…

…then use one of the String of Quotes strategies that show how to Create Variety or Evaluate Evidence.

If students do not transition in or out of quotes…

…then see the post titled Writers Set Up and Unpack Quotes.


Today’s strategy is the foundation of all the above work.  The final strategy I will share is for students who are able to cite a quote, but their evidence is neither pertinent or compelling.  Choosing the best evidence to support a claim is imperative in the art of argument, so we must teach students how to select the evidence that best matches their purpose.

When a student uses uncompelling evidence, look at the source materials to discern the student’s logic.  More often than not, s/he chose the first reasonable quote found in the source.  The student did not postpone the decision of which quote to include until the source material was read.  It is important that we teach students to not jump too quickly at the first quote they see.  Instead, they should be patient- reading the source material further on the lookout for the BEST quote they can find.

To teach this strategy, I first show students how to read their work with a focus on quotes.  As students come to a quote within their piece, I have them reread the quote alongside their reason and ask themselves,

“Does this quote fit my reason?  Is there a stronger quote that could support this?”

The answers to these questions help students see whether their quote is sound or if they should look for a better fit.

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I model with my own writing how to use sticky flags as placeholders for where a stronger quote could go once further research is done.

Teaching Tool 1- Adding Compelling Evidence

Next, I return to the article to read further, mining for stronger quotes that support my claim.  I model how to mark, by underlining (or you could use a highlighter), potential quotes as I continue reading down the page.  I reinforce to students that sometimes the best quotes are buried deep within the article and that they should not be too quick when choosing a quote.

Teaching Tool 2- Adding Compelling Evidence

Once I’ve reread the article and found some other possible quotes, I show students how to choose the best piece of evidence by referring back to this class chart:

Teaching Chart- String of Quotes- Evaluate Evidence

Follow up your teacher demonstration with time for students to do the work.  Have them reread their piece with a critical eye toward included quotes.  If any are weak, they should return to the source material to find a more pertinent quotation to include in their piece.  As always, encourage students as they return to independence to keep this strategy in mind.  🙂

I hope that you found this series practical and helpful for your everyday classroom use.  Looking forward I would like to share based on what YOU need.  So, my next post will be based on the results of the poll below.  What are you working on now?  Let me know what you would like my next post to be about!


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Argument Writing Toolkit- Transitioning In and Out of Quotes (Unpack)

Picking up right where I left off from my previous post… We can help students who plop quotes into their writing with no introduction or explanation by teaching them how to both set-up and unpack the quote.  I’ve already shared a strategy for how to transition into quotes.  You can see how to transition into or set-up quotes in my previous post (here).  This post will share how to do the second part, transitioning out of or unpacking quotes.  So, let’s get right to it!

After students set-up their quotes, it is imperative that they unpack it.  When a student unpacks a quotes, s/he explains its significance, connecting the quote to their claim by explaining their thinking.  Super hard and super academic work that many students struggle with!  How many of you have seen student writing that looks like this?

Squeaky is fiercely protective of her brother Raymond.  She always sticks up for him.  For example in the text Squeaky narrates, “But now, if anybody has anything to say to Raymond, anything to say about his big head, they have to come by me.”  This shows that she is protective.

Not exactly the level of scholarly writing we expect from our students….

However, with a few well-placed thought prompts student can really  push their interpretive thinking, allowing their voice to shine through.  That premise is what this small-group lesson is modeled off of.  Especially in an argument essay, we want to ensure that the writer’s voice is heard above all else.

So, I begin with this teaching point:

Teaching Point- Transition into Quotes- Unpack Quotes

Then, I follow that up with an example of my own writing that exemplifies the struggle that I am tapping into.

first try

In this sample, I’ve included very little of my own voice, nor have I explained to my readers why or how these quotes connect to my main point.  But using prompts I can begin to push my thinking and explanation.  I shared suggested prompts with students on a small teaching chart.  (Make sure to look back at my previous post, here, to see some thoughts around prompts- you can find it under the prompt chart image.)

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Using sentence stems to push thinking is really powerful.  For struggling students you can also practice this work orally.  Have students talk out their ideas, and as they talk voice over the prompts encouraging them to say more.  This process of working to say more really allows students to stretch their thinking down new avenues.  You can practice this regularly in the classroom by having students free write in their reading notebooks, using prompts to grow ideas.

During my small group, I modeled this thinking aloud, using the prompts to “say more” about each quote.  I captured some of my work on paper, so that I now have a revised paragraph to show students.

second try

Round out your small group time by giving students the opportunity to do this work with your support.  While other group members are working, have each student orally unpack each quote.  Encourage the student to say more by coaching in with the prompts.  When a solid line of thinking is established, have the student write it down for their essay.  Repeat this process with each group member.

And that’s it!  There is just ONE strategy left.  Check back soon!

Let’s keep the conversation going-


Argument Writing Toolkit- Transitioning In and Out of Quotes (Set-up)

This strategy was created to address a common gripe that many of the teachers I work with have.  The struggle is that students just plop quotes into the middle of their writing without any precursor or explanation to its relevance.  These students lack the skill of how to transition into and/or out of quotes.  In student-friendly language, we call this setting up and unpacking a quote.


When addressing this struggle, I would only  attend to one or the other- never both at the same time.  My reasoning is that I do not want to overwhelm the students.  I’d prefer they  focus on one strategy fully rather than trying to split their attention.  If students need to work on BOTH, I always begin with setting-up quotes.  Why?  Because it’s easier to attain.  This is due to the fact that all students need to do to be successful in this skill is to add in a simple transitional phrase.

So, let’s start with how to set-up a quote (how to unpack a quote will follow).  A sample teaching point to introduce how to transition into quotes might look like this:

Teaching Point- Transition into Quotes- Set Up Quote

Begin your small group by showing a piece of your writing where you are having this struggle.

First Try

Point out to students the way the quotes are just dropped into the text without giving the reader any warning.  Explain how this seems blunt or even confusing.

Next, share with students a simple chart that provides some examples of transitional phrases they can use to set-up quotes.


You might want to modify this chart for varying levels of students.  For example, special education students may be overwhelmed by too many options, so a shorter list would be appropriate.  Or, include sophisticated language for those students that need a little push.  After reviewing released student samples from our state test (we are a PARCC state), there was a notable score difference for  students who used more academic transitions (“In addition ___, states…”) compared to more basic versions (“Also ___, says…”).   So, you might want to build students up in that way.

Also, think about the power of using the same  transitions all year long (in literary essay,  argument, and information writing).  Recently, I discussed with Emily Strang-Campbell, a fantastic staff developer from TCRWP (as well as a friend and mentor of mine), how having a set list of 5-8 transitions might actually help students internalize them easier and transfer their use when it comes to state test time.  Often, our inclination as teachers is to give them an all-inclusive list of every possible transitions imaginable.  Our thinking might be that our chances of a student using a transition increases if we provide them with more options. The more the merrier, right?  However, by focusing in on a few very powerful transitions, that are ALWAYS used, students might remember them easier.

Another piece of advice is to hang this anchor chart in the same place all year.  Come test time–yes, you take all your instructional materials down– but if students are taking the test in your room they  may be visually reminded of the transitions because of where that chart used to be.

Getting back to the small group lesson, model incorporating transitions to set-up quotes in your demo piece.  Think aloud how you determine which to use.  Show how your piece looks with changes in place.

Second Try

Finish off your group by allowing students to try this work right in front of you as you coach into their progress.

Up next- Unpacking Quotes.  Check back soon!

Let’s keep the conversation going-



Argument Writing Toolkit- Trimming Block Quotes (Ellipses)

My last post outlined one strategy to help students trim long block quotes from their writing pieces (see that post here), and this post will show another.  Remember these strategies are for students who struggle with cutting down a long quote because they feel that their reader needs all the information in the quote.  Therefore, the strategy of omitting unimportant parts from the quote (which you can see here) is not useful for this crop of writers.

I’ll begin by sharing the teaching tool I use to teach this strategy, and then I’ll follow up with a few words of caution about using ellipses.

My teaching point for this work is pretty straightforward:


Teaching Point-Trimming Down Quotes- Elipses

The orange sticky flags alongside the teaching point are ellipses I use when modeling.  Students can also use them during the small group to make the lesson a bit more tactile.

Like my previously shared strategies, I start by showing a sample of my own writing that personifies the problem these students have– too much quoted text within a paragraph.  However, I empathize with them about how important I think the quote is and how difficult it would be to cut any part of it because it ALL seems so important.


I explain to the students my thinking–how in this example, using ellipses would be the best strategy to use as opposed to paraphrasing because of the way the quote is comprised of a long list.  When reading this quote, my audience can easily get bogged down and lost in the list.  As a writer, I made the decision that although all the details are important, my audience will get the gist of what I mean if only a few are listed.

Next, I talk through my thinking of which part of the quote I would omit and replace with ellipses.  I model how to strike out that section and then I replace it with an ellipses sticky.  This way students can visually see the editing moves being made.  I, then, followed that up with a clean version incorporating the change.

Teaching Tools- Trimming Down Quotes- Elipses

Notice how the proportion of quoted text to my own writing is improved with the use of ellipses.  In my first try, the quote takes up about one third of my paragraph!  That’s not enough of my voice.  My second try, however, has a much better balance.

As always, this small group is rounded out with a time for students to try this work in their writing pieces with me coaching in.  I usually let them work for a few minutes, while I scan or walk the room, then check back in.

A word of caution about using ellipses.  You have to warn your students that ellipses, when used incorrectly, can alter the meaning of the quoted text.  So as writers, they need to stay true to the author’s original intent or emphasis.  For example, look at this example of an original quote (highlighted in yellow) and use of ellipses (on the pink sticky):

Teaching Tools- Trimming Down Quotes- Elipses Extension

Notice how the writer misused the quotation.  By eliminating the beginning and end portion, the meaning of the entire quote is skewed.  The quote is actually pointing out how non-concussed players had impaired brain functioning, but it can easily be manipulated to seem like it is showing how concussions lead to impaired brain functioning.

It is important that we warn students of this when we are teaching the use of ellipses for trimming down block quotes.  I usually have students ask themselves a question to make sure that they are staying true to the original intent of the quote:

Does this keep the essence of what the author was trying to say, or does it change it?

Try this strategy out!  Let me know how it goes!

There are only two strategies left.  Follow to see the rest!

Let’s keep the conversation going-



Argument Writing Toolkit- Trimming Block Quotes (Paraphrase)

Hello!  Happy New Year!

I hope that everyone had a happy and healthy holiday season.  It sure was a busy one!  I promised to post after the holidays and had every intention of getting back to you last week.  However, as you may know the East Coast was hit with a “bomb cyclone” and my school district had TWO snow days on Thursday and Friday.  So…in the past 16 days I’ve  only had one work day. Wow!

But let’s get back to it!

Today I’d like to share another tool for helping students add evidence to their argument pieces.  This strategy is for students who have included block quotes that are too large in their writing.  Remember, a good rule of thumb is that quoted text should only take up about 5-10% of the writing.  The difference with this cohort of students is that they  feel like they can’t cut the block quote because the information is important for the reader to know.  So, these writers cannot use the previously shared Allow Your Writing to Shine strategy, of striking to omit parts of quote that are deemed unimportant.

To solve this problem, students can choose to either paraphrase parts of the quote or use ellipses.  Today’s post will highlight how I teach students to paraphrase their quote (how to use ellipses will follow).

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I began this small group with the teaching point pictured below and by showing students a piece of my writing that had an overly large portion of quoted text:

Teaching Point-Trimming Down Quotes- Paraphrase


Then, I demonstrated how I chose parts of the quote to paraphrase.  I modeled how to strike out the chosen sentences and then rewrite them in my own words.

Teaching Tools- Trimming Down Quotes- Paraphrase

Next,  I shared a revised version of my original writing that incorporated the paraphrased sections of the quote.  I pointed out how my entire paragraph had to be reworked a bit as opposed to just plugging in the paraphrased sentences.

Teaching Tools- Trimming Down Quotes- Paraphrase

Finally, as always, I finished this group by letting students have a go.  Each worked right in front of me on trying this strategy as I coached in and addressed any individual needs.

There you have it! Have your tried any of the strategies I’ve shared with your kiddos?  How did it go?

Let’s keep the conversation going-


P.S. Like what you see? More tools to come- Follow along!


Argument Writing Toolkit- String of Quotes (Ranking Evidence)

Following up from my last post, another strategy to help eradicate a string of quotes in student writing is to evaluate/ rank evidence.  The idea is that not every piece of evidence needs to be presented within the argument, but rather the piece of evidence that packs the most punch.  So in this small group you are working with students to evaluate the evidence they included in their writing and helping them rank it from strongest to weakest.  This allows students to present the evidence that best matches their point.

As always, this small groups began with a teaching point:

Teaching Point- String of Quotes- Evaluate Evidence

Then I showed a piece of my writing for demonstration:

Teaching Tool 1- String of Quotes- Evaluate Evidence

Next, using the chart that goes along with our unit of study (from The Reading and Writing Project’s 7th grade Argument Unit- The Art of Argument), I worked with students to rank each piece of evidence.  To add a kinesthetic touch, I have students sort text evidence strips– putting the piece of evidence that works best at the top (closest to the reason) and the weakest at the bottom.

Teaching Chart- String of Quotes- Evaluate Evidence Teaching Tool 2- String of Quotes- Evaluate Evidence

The beauty of this teaching tool is that there is no right answer.  I let the students come to whatever conclusion they decide on as long they have sound reasoning that they can explain.  Too often kids are hung up on figuring out what “our” right answer is and they don’t have the confidence to productively struggle through the process.  It is important that we give them open-ended opportunities to build those muscles.

Finally, students try this work on their piece.

Give it a try.  Let me know how it goes! 🙂

I hope that you all have a happy and safe holiday.  I’ll be back with more strategies after the New Year!

Let’s keep the conversation going-



Argument Writing Toolkit- String of Quotes (Create Variety)

Sometimes in student writing you will see a string of quotes, where students move from one quote to the next to the next without a break in between.  These students are usually struggling with how to create variety in their inclusion of text evidence or how to evaluate and choose the most effective piece of text evidence.  So this tool is actually two strategies that would be taught separately.  Students could use either strategy to eradicate a string of quotes.

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In this post, I’ll share the first strategy to create variety (you can see the second strategy to rank and evaluate evidence here).

To begin, the teaching point is:

Teaching Point- String of Quotes- Create Variety

I demonstrated this strategy by modeling the process with my own writing.  First, I shared a piece that portrayed the problem.  My first try has 5 quotes back to back, which all essentially say the same thing– that competitive sports cause injuries.

try 1

Next, I referred to the String of Quotes teaching chart (the first image from above) to show some of the ways that students can create variety when including text evidence into their piece.  I modeled how to change each of the quotes using ellipses, paraphrasing, listing/citing sources, etc.  My new paragraph looked like this:

try 2

I used small sticky flags to point out the different techniques used to create variety.   I also shared a teaching chart with the students that exemplifies those same techniques.

String of Quotes-Create Variety

Finally, students worked on adding variety in their own piece by finding a paragraph that had a string of quotes, choosing a technique to try, and revising their piece while I coached in.

What do you think? Try this out in your room.  Let me know how it goes! 🙂

Next time, I’ll share how you can help students avoid a string of quotes by evaluating and using the most effective piece of evidence.

Like what you see? More tools to come- Follow along!

Let’s keep the conversation going-