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Tips From Dr. Marzano

Teaching Argumentation


Teaching ArgumentationThe following tips are designed to assist you in applying the latest research in tangible ways in your classroom, school, or district.



Activities and games combine two teaching strategies—academic games and friendly controversy—to boost student engagement and reinforce the skills necessary for argumentation and reasoning.

The skills associated with the complex cognitive tasks of argumentation and reasoning require that students practice them often in order to fully master them. To this end, we recommend the use of activities and games in the classroom, as they facilitate the practice of these necessary skills while simultaneously heightening student engagement and achievement. Activities and games rely on two teaching strategies to maintain student engagement—academic games and friendly controversy. Use of academic games in the classroom has been linked with an average gain of 20 percentile points in student achievement (Haystead & Marzano, 2009), whereas friendly controversy has been tied to increased rates of curiosity, achievement, and positive attitudes among students (Lowry & Johnson, 1981) (pp. 45–46).

Academic games come in many forms; however, they should all rely on inconsequential competition if they are to be effective.

To be practical in the classroom, academic games must use inconsequential competition, or competition that does not have a bearing on a student’s grade in class. This competition can manifest as an individual game, where students compete against one another, or a group game, where a class is divided into groups, each of which competes against the others. However, regardless of form, to be an inconsequential competition, students should not be motivated by an extreme need to win or external pressures. Rather, academic games using inconsequential competition should create a friendly, low-stakes environment, regardless of whether students compete for a prize or merely the satisfaction of winning (p. 46).

Like academic games, friendly controversy can be a powerful engagement tool, but only if the strategy creates a fun environment with mild pressure.

Researchers over the last 20 years found that mild pressure created through friendly controversy can help students focus. However, there is a fine line between mild and excessive pressure. If friendly controversy creates too much pressure in a classroom environment, students can easily become disheartened, embarrassed, frustrated, or even angry if they lose. To avoid this, teachers should not disproportionately encourage winning (verbally, with prizes, or otherwise); rather, teachers should emphasize the enjoyable and engaging aspects of playing the game itself (p. 46).