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This is a debate activity using students’ topics to get an idea of what the other side thinks as a way to strengthen their argument. After students come in with their research, they will share their topics with the class. They will record their main opinion and reasons supporting the main opinion. Then they will debate other students in attempt come up with arguments to counter reasons from peers.


  • Students will have an idea of how claims and counterclaims interact.
  • Students will evaluate the strengths of their main claim.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.1b Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.4 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on addressing what is most significant for a specific purpose and audience.


50 minutes


Handout: Argument/counterargument assignment

Sample counterargument (optional)

Lesson step-by-step

1. Review main arguments — 10 minutes

Ask students to review what makes a strong claim in an opinion paper: a focused thesis, a focused opinion, strong reasons for that opinion.

Distribute the assignment. Have students start with the topic they picked, then brainstorm multiple answers for each question. For example, if they are researching the topic of homework, they may look at who is affected by the topic. Possible answers include teachers trying to fit everything in, students (and that can be broken down further to those trying to catch up, those who work or have responsibilities after school, those preparing for college, and so forth), parents (can they help with homework anymore? do they enforce homework?). Under “what,” students can consider the types of homework teachers issue and the ways it affects them.

Give students time to complete the worksheet. Even if they think they have their topic down, they need to explore different ways to cover it so they can make sure they are focused.

Next, have them circle their top ideas and choose how they want to narrow their topic.

2. Counterarguments — 25 minutes

Instruct students to use the back side of their worksheet to write their focused claim on (again, they can look at the example provided.) Then they need to think of five reasons why their claim is right — some reasons may be stronger than others, but they should strive for five.

Divide students into groups of 4-5 (this will work better with mixed groups rather than student-chosen groups). Have them pass their paper to the person to the right, and in the “counterargument” column, try to come up with an argument someone could use to argue against one or two of the reasons. The student doesn’t need to agree with the counterargument personally; the idea is to play devil’s advocate to help their classmates build stronger arguments. After a few minutes, students should pass the papers again, and they think of more counterclaims for their next group member’s paper. Keep switching until students have read each group member’s list of reasons for their claim.

3. Discuss and present — 15 minutes

Explain that it is important to look at a topic from all sides, especially if they want to explain why their point of view is correct. Ask for volunteers to explain one reason and what counterarguments they received. Have students use the “notes” column to address how they will deal with the counterarguments in their column, or whether that reason is strong enough to hold up their argument. Suggest students gather more information to address their reasons and counterarguments, and remind them that if they are writing about school or local issues, that research may mean talking to local experts. (For example, a freshman isn’t an expert on school rules the way an administrator is.)