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Learning the Art of Persuasion: from YouTube to Formal Debate

Learning the Art of Persuasion: from YouTube to Formal Debate

Written by Angie Cannon
February 04, 2012

Disingenuous persuasive arguments drive me crazy. Persuasion for the sake of a grade as opposed to something that matters to one’s life and well being are two very different beasts. Making students understand that if they don’t have the tools to persuade, they will never have any kind of power, is a difficult sell. They don’t really hear it. Maybe it’s because they’ve never possessed power, so they don’t assume such potential in the first place. Maybe they don’t know what they would use it for anyway. Perhaps they think they already have power and the ability to persuade, so why should they listen to a stupid teacher about it. So, the challenge for me is to address the following standards in a way that sticks and allows students to walk away with these methods in their toolbox when they need them in life. Otherwise, what’s the point, right?


Day One:
Students took the pre-test, Prompt A. I gave them 15 minutes to write their essay and these seemed like the right amount of time. Doing this didn’t seem unusual to my students because I have them practice writing from essay prompts every now and then.
The opening reflection questions turned out really well. Students enjoyed sharing how they persuade people and I got some really entertaining answers about convincing their parents to let them get tattoos, go out with friends, take the car, etc. I asked each person who shared to also talk about how they went about convincing that person to do what they wanted and started to write some things on the board. When we moved on to the final question,” What ways do we use to persuade people” students came up with the following things:
Use smarts (logic)
Killing argument against you
Explaining Benefits to them
I then took a little detour and showed them the film “Crash Course in Argument”. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have shown this film here. I realized once I was in it that students had a hard time following and I think they would have understood it better and it would have been more useful later in the unit, maybe after the debates.
I went back to the list on the board and handed out the “Check the Strategies” worksheet. We went through the worksheet and started relating the actual terms to the things they said. We found a good place for everything. My favorite placement was that nagging/begging went into the repetition category.
I ran out of time, will have to get to the speeches and filling out the handout next class.

Day 2:
Our informal conversation about the standards actually worked out pretty well. I wrote the standard on the board and explained that this was the standard that they were expected to know. I then asked them if that means anything to anyone. Before  I could even ask them to unpack the words they were asking me what coherent meant, other students were offering the meaning to those that didn’t know and they were working together as a class to figure out how to answer my question. They finally came up with the idea that they were expected to be able to argue in a way that was understandable and that made sense. They also said they were expected to use different ways to argue and not use the same method all the time. They had plenty to say about all the questions. They thought back to the last class and what we talked about and agreed that the strategies we spoke about made it easier to persuade people. They also agreed that if your voice was monotone people wouldn’t want to listen to you out of boredom and that if you say something and can’t look someone in the eye, you couldn’t be trusted. I actually did very little to prompt these responses.
Unfortunately I had technical problems with the router moving slow and they were upset that they couldn’t watch all of the MLK speech or the JFK, this set us  pretty far back and we didn’t get to the last two. I plan to begin the next class with those and let them finish the MLK speech as well. In retrospect, I think I will upload those videos on something that doesn’t require a router because our computer reliability has been the worst this year since I’ve been teaching. I thought I had that base covered by uploading them early in the day, but oh well, lesson learned.

Day 3:
I started class by placing the student’s names on the desks I wanted them to sit at. This was quick and easy way to get them into their debate groups without any discussion. I just told them to find their name and sit in the seat where they found it as they came into the room.
I handed out three” check the strategies” handouts per student. I then told them to watch the MLK speech and fill out the sheet while they watched. I let them know that it was okay to discuss quietly in their group and help each other while the speech was going. They did this very well. They were telling their group mates when they found something in the better functioning groups. I did have one group that wasn’t really helping each other at all so I need to stay close to that group. I showed them the Jon Stewart and the Titans speeches. We discussed the closing reflection questions and students responded very well to those questions, identifying “I have a Dream” as the most effective speech unanimously.
I handed out the debate questions to each group and this went without a glitch because they didn’t know what topics the other groups had been given so had no reason to argue or beg for something different. I put the Opening Reflection Questions on the overhead and asked the students to discuss the questions with their group if they wanted to, but to write the answers in their own words on a paper to hand in. Everyone finished and they seemed pretty ready to get into working on the debates for Friday.
I’m giving them 20 minutes to prepare for the debate at the beginning of class on Friday and then I expect to spend a maximum of 10 min. per debate. That will amount to 50 min.  The class lasts 95 minutes on Friday, so, because I’m not reliant on technology, I can pretty safely say that they will have 20-25 min. minimum to complete their formal reflections.

I only had one student that appears to be lost.  She happens to be in the group that I know I need to keep on track by staying close, so that’s good.

Day 4:
The debates went really well. Students needed to be reminded of the meanings of certain terms, specifically; inductive, deductive, coherent, and logical. We had an interesting mix of students preparing for the debate in different ways. Students had a great time with this activity and they tried hard to do well. A note I want to make here that I find profound is this; Students knew in advance that they were not being graded on their performance in the debate, they also knew that their grade would be based on their reflections about what they did and saw. Many might worry that students won’t try hard if it’s not for a grade. Rather, I found the opposite to be true. They were more relaxed and open with ideas without the worry of being assessed. They also knew their peers were observing them and my theory is that knowing this made it more motivating  to be interesting. It’s amazing how hard students will work and try when they feel prepared to do what is being asked of them.

Day 5:
This was the best lesson yet. We started off after having been gone for Winter break. I spent some time refreshing their memory about the debates and it was pretty easy for them to get their heads back into what we were doing in class. I reminded them about certain terms and we discussed the standards and what they are supposed to be learning. They broke into partners and practiced their speaking skills by reading the Hillary Clinton Speech to each other. They had a good time doing this. I then asked them to watch Hillary Clinton deliver the speech they had been practicing and asked them to reflect on the differences between their deliveries and Hillary’s. They GOT IT. They discussed how she had more passion than they had and suggested that was due to the audience. She was speaking to world leaders and if she could get them to listen and accept her argument, it could change the world. They said that because they were only speaking to a peer with no consequence attached to doing it well, their delivery lacked passion and conviction. They came up with this stuff on their own; I merely acted as a facilitator.
When they saw the examples of bad speeches and I asked them to consider the reflection questions. The most compelling things they came up with were observing how they couldn’t help but listen to Hillary speak and try to understand what she was saying. They said it was almost beyond their control because of her tone of voice and the way she engaged the audience and made what she said seem really important through her inflections, pauses, and body language. Whereas with the bad speeches; they couldn’t bring themselves to listen to the speakers because of their lack of using such skills. They also discussed why it’s important to deliver a speech effectively and they discussed how if one is in a position where they need to speak publicly, it is probably about a matter that they care about. If they do it poorly, they can harm the cause instead of help it and lose respect among a community of people that they probably care about. We ended with students assuring me that they understand what they need to do to deliver a speech well and they feel like they can do a good job. I can’t wait to see it.

Day 6:
I had the informal discussion with students and they are now understanding these concepts when I ask them questions, without asking me what things mean. I gave them the outline to turn their problem/solution research papers into persuasive speeches. There was some confusion for many about the concept of choosing one of the possible solutions that they found and convince their audience to embrace that solution because they had trouble changing the way they were thinking about their research which went from informing their audience to persuading them about something specific. It didn’t take long for them to embrace it and start working though. Now I will cross my fingers and hope that everyone shows up with a speech on day 7!

Designing the Module

I designed this module with Rebecca Itow as part of the Participatory Assessment Network, a project headed by Dan Hickey and his team of researchers in the Learning Sciences Program at Indiana University.

This module is designed around the following standards:

MCCSC Standards
10.7.6  Analyze the occasion and the interests of the audience and choose effective verbal and nonverbal techniques (including voice, gestures, and eye contact) for presentations.

10.7.18 Deliver persuasive arguments (including evaluation and analysis of problems and solutions and causes and effects) that:

  • structure ideas and arguments in a coherent, logical fashion using inductive or deductive arguments.
  • contain speech devices that support assertions (such as by appeal to logic through reasoning; by appeal to emotion or ethical belief; or by use of personal anecdote, case study, or analogy).
  • clarify and defend positions with precise and relevant evidence, including facts, expert opinions, quotations, expressions of commonly accepted beliefs, and logical reasoning. anticipate and address the listeners’ concerns and counterarguments.

Correlating Common Core Standards
CC.W.9-10.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts,
using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

  • a. Introduce precise claim(s), distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and create an organization that establishes clear relationships among claim(s), counterclaims, reasons, and evidence.
  • b. Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly, supplying evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level and concerns.
  • c. Use words, phrases, and clauses to link the major sections of the text, create cohesion, and clarify the relationships between claim(s) and reasons, between reasons and evidence, and between claim(s) and counterclaims.
  • d. Establish and maintain a formal style and objective tone while attending to the norms and conventions of the discipline in which they are writing.
  • e. Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.

CC.SL.9-10.1.c Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.

CC.SL.9-10.3 Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.

CC.SL.9-10.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.

Assessment Data

The module was bracketed by pre and post standards oriented assessments in the form of NAEP writing exams.

In a pre/post repeated measures model, the effect was F(1, 13)=14.3, p<.005

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