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Understanding and Analyzing Arguments in Nonfiction Texts

Lesson Plan

Understanding and Analyzing Arguments in Nonfiction Texts


In this lesson, students will explore how authors support arguments in nonfiction texts. Students will:

  • identify arguments in nonfiction texts.
  • identify claims and analyze ways the author supports claims in nonfiction texts.

Essential Questions

How do readers’ know what to believe in what they read, hear, and view?
How do strategic readers create meaning from informational and literary text?
How does interaction with text provoke thinking and response?
What is this text really about?
  • How do strategic readers create meaning from informational and literary text?
  • What is this text really about?
  • How does interaction with text provoke thinking and response?
  • How do readers know what to believe in what they read, hear, and view?
  • How does interaction with text provoke thinking and response?


  • Claim: A statement of position on an issue.
  • Reason: A general statement that offers support for a claim.
  • Evidence: Facts, reason, statistics and other information used to support reasons.
  • Argument: A discussion that involves opposing views on an issue; a fact or statement offered as proof or evidence.


50–100 minutes/1–2 class periods

Prerequisite Skills

Prerequisite Skills haven't been entered into the lesson plan.


Related Unit and Lesson Plans

Related Materials & Resources

The possible inclusion of commercial websites below is not an implied endorsement of their products, which are not free, and are not required for this lesson plan.

Additional articles on the plastic bag issue can be found below:

Further information about the elements of argument can be found below:




Formative Assessment

  • View

    The goal of this lesson is to introduce students to the main elements of an argument and help them identify and analyze these elements in nonfiction texts.

    • To assess students’ grasp of the concepts, observe students as they complete their analyses.
    • Provide feedback on students’ work to help them assess their progress toward the goals of the lesson:
      • identify arguments in nonfiction texts.
      • identify claims and analyze ways the author supports claims in nonfiction texts.

Suggested Instructional Supports

  • View
    Active Engagement, Explicit Instruction
    W: Guide students to understand the basic elements of argument—claims, reasoning, and evidence— and how these elements work together to support the author’s overall purpose. 
    H: Engage students by asking them what they know about a common issue and having them express different views on the issue. 
    E: Provide students with information about reasoning and the types of evidence used to support the reasons, and then have them search for examples in texts related to a specific issue. 
    R: Allow students to articulate their understanding of argument by evaluating an argument in groups and then sharing results with the whole class. 
    E: Have students demonstrate understanding by locating examples of different types of evidence, and then evaluate understanding by comparing their examples with those found by others. 
    T: Differentiate instruction by providing materials at various levels of complexity to accommodate intrapersonal, interpersonal, visual-spatial, and verbal-linguistic multiple intelligences. 
    O: Structure the lesson by starting with teacher-guided instruction, then provide activities in argument analysis individually and in small groups, and finally provide class discussion to summarize and clarify concepts. 

Instructional Procedures

  • View

    Focus Question: How do authors develop arguments?

    Say, “Think about an issue you feel strongly about in your school or community and share your issue with the class.” Responses may vary greatly. Write several examples on the board, but do not discuss them at this time. (Examples might include increasing or shortening school lunch hours, adding a sport or activity to after school events, establishing a community service program.)

    Say, “An argument is a discussion that involves opposing views on an issue. You may feel strongly for or against an issue. You may feel you are ‘right.’ But in order to win people over to your side, you need to present a convincing case.” Ask, “What might help you to win your case?” Responses may include facts, reasons, and evidenceSay, “In this lesson, we are going to examine the basic elements of argument.”

    Part 1

    Write the following terms on the board/interactive whiteboard.

    • Claim: a statement of position on the issue
    • Reasons: the general statements an author gives to prove the validity of a claim
    • Evidence: facts, examples, statistics and other types of information an author gives to support reasons

    Define the terms. Then say, “We are going to read about a particular issue and analyze its arguments using these terms.”

    Ask, “How do you and your family typically bring home groceries from the grocery store?” Give students time to respond (possible answers are plastic bags, paper bags, cloth bags, boxes.). Say, “Most of us have used plastic bags for shopping. Why are plastic bags so popular?” (Responses may include they are convenient, economical, easy to transport). Then ask, “Can you think of any disadvantages to plastic bags?” (Responses may include they rip easily, they are harmful to the environment, they don’t break down in landfills.) Say, “Some communities are deciding whether to ban plastic shopping bags altogether. We are going to read about this issue and examine the arguments on both sides.”

    Part 2

    Place students in small groups. Have half the groups read one side of an argument while the other half read the opposing side. Use the following articles or others of your choice: “Banning Single-Use Plastic Bags Fact Sheet,”,

    “Why We should Not Ban Plastic Bags,” by Kate Pullen

    Say, “As you read, pay attention to the author’s claim and think about how the claim is supported.” Remind students that they do not have to agree with the author’s claim; the goal is to understand and analyze the argument.

    After students have finished reading, distribute copies of the Analyzing Arguments Worksheet to each student (L-8-1-3_Analyzing Arguments Worksheet.docx). Explain to students how to complete the handout, reteaching the terms on the board as necessary. Tell them that the “Conflicting Information” section will be completed later in the lesson. Students may find more than three reasons supporting their claim. If so, they can write them on the other side of the handout. Circulate among the groups to answer any questions and to monitor understanding.

    After students have completed the handout individually, have them discuss their results with their group. As a group, they should decide which three reasons are strongest and provide the best support and evidence for the claim. They will then share these results with the whole class.

    Discuss the group results as a class. Write each claim at the top of the board/whiteboard: “Plastic bags should be banned” and “Plastic bags should not be banned.” Beneath each claim, write the main reasons the groups give as support for the claim. (Possible reasons for banning: plastic bags are bad for marine life, they are manufactured with a nonrenewable resource, they are non-biodegradable, they are a key cause of litter; possible reasons against banning: people still need bags for trash and other uses, plastic bags are recyclable, loss of plastic bag industry, recycling is bad for the economy, reusable bags are unsafe) Then write specific evidence students found for the reasons. (There are several types of evidence in each text: facts, statistics, use of authority).

    Ask students which argument they find most convincing and why. Have them keep their handouts for use in Part 3.

    Part 3

    Have students return to their groups and give them time to read the opposing article from the one they read in the earlier group discussion. Say, “Sometimes authors look at the same information and interpret it differently. As you reread these articles, look for examples of conflicting information. Write the examples at the bottom of your handout.” Tell students this task will involve close reading of the texts. Allow the groups to discuss their responses. Monitor the groups to make sure they understand the task.  (There are a number of discrepancies in these two articles: different statistics on the amount of plastic bags recycled, amount of litter produced, contrast of fees/taxes for individuals, toxins and bacteria associated with reusable bags, impact on lower income individuals)

    As a class, discuss the responses. Say, “As you can see, people can look at the same information and interpret it differently or use it to their own advantage. That’s why it is so important to analyze an argument. We need to ask these questions:

    • Is there sufficient evidence for support?
    • Is the evidence fair and objective?
    • Is the evidence relevant?

    If you can answer yes to these questions, then the argument is probably a sound one. But if the answer is no, then you need to be wary.” You may want to post these questions in the classroom for students’ reference.

    Ask, “Why might authors interpret the same information differently?” (Their experience or background may influence their interpretation. They may want to slant the information to support their ideas or persuade the reader to accept their viewpoint.)

    Have students write an answer to the last question on the handout, “What are some things you can do to solve the problem of conflicting information?” Then discuss their answers with the class. (Possible responses: do your own research to confirm facts and statistics, examine the author’s motives and bias)

    Say, “Ultimately we have to decide for ourselves how we feel about an issue, based on as much information as possible. The strongest arguments, however, always rely on sound reasoning and strong evidence.”

    Collect students’ handouts to evaluate their understanding of the lesson.


    • Students who are ready to go beyond the standard could examine the elements of argument (see Related Resources) and write a composition incorporating a claim with supporting reasons.
    • Students who need additional opportunities for learning may work with a partner to analyze the arguments in other articles on the topic of banning plastic bags. (see Related Resources)

Related Instructional Videos

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Final 06/07/2013
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