After introducing claim statements with a task card walk last Wednesday, we then began inquiring into counterclaims and rebuttals on Thursday and Friday.   I decided to do station rotations as our learning activity, and after a little tweaking with my first two classes, I polished the learning structure for my final two groups.

We began with notes and guided practice just as we did with claims.   Students then had an opportunity to choose a table group; again, the parameters included:

  • You must leave your current table area.
  • You cannot sit with anyone from your regular table group.
  • No more than four people per table (I did allow five for my larger classes if needed).

Using these counterclaim task cards and some additional practice problems I purchased here, I created six stations.  The first five stations gave students four paragraphs to read and asked students to find the counterclaim in each one.  I made copies of each set of four task cards on neon paper and placed them in a folder with all the identifying information (station number and task card numbers).  Working through rounds of 8-10 segments, students read the paragraphs and identified counterclaims and rebuttals at their stations.  I played soft music in the background through our projector speakers for something white noise to help students focus.  I normally don’t do timed station rotations, but this activity was a good fit, plus it kept students focused and engaged, something that is not always easy to do, especially on a Friday afternoon!

Once groups had completed each station, groups were charged to discuss their answers for the current table (where they ended) and to come to a consensus about their answers and to be prepared to defend their choices.  After taking about 6-7 minutes for this discussion and planning, each group had an opportunity to participate in our “throwdown” as they came to the board and marked up and explained their answers.  Groups not presenting checked and corrected their answers; this work was turned in as a non-graded formative assessment to help me identify any students who might be struggling or need some additional targeted practice to do independently.  I am also providing all students additional practice with a mastery module through NoRedInk.

This activity was the perfect combination of independent to small group collaborative work to a large group share, and the element of “team” competition in the “throwdown” was once again an energizing element.  The table talk in which groups had to compare answers and come to a consensus was probably the most valuable aspect of the learning experience because students really had to dig in and explain their responses—I heard many meaningful conversations throughout the day on Friday.  This is also another way to integrate targeted practice and task cards into instruction.  Even more impressive to me was how focused and thoughtful students were in their work, no small feat with middle schoolers on a Friday afternoon!  I think it is important to incorporate opportunities for students to talk and construct meaning with their peers whether it is with a partner, in a small group, or with the entire class.

Our next learning activity will have students working with a partner as we look at a mentor text argumentative essay and use Gretchen Bernabei’s kernel essay strategy to help students deconstruct the argumentative essay structure.  Stay tuned!