Author: Angela D. Stewart, Jackson, Mississippi
This activity introduces students in language arts, debate, economics, and history classrooms to argumentation. By the end of the lesson, students should have a better understanding of the terms controversial, pro, and con, and they should be better able to debate the merits of capitalism and communism found in Margaret Walker’s Journal 19, March-December 1941.
8 index cards with controversial topics written on them
Notebooks or folders
Students will work in groups to list and discuss the pros and cons of capitalism and communism in conjunction with the rest of the class. By the end, students should understand key terms in the study of argument; be able to see opposing viewpoints of an issue; and speak, read, write, and listen in an effort to make a cohesive argument.
- The teacher should ask students to define the terms pro and con as well as capitalism and communism.
- Allow students the opportunity to read aloud Margaret Walker’s Journal 19, pages 73-81, and discuss her arguments concerning why the vast majority of African Americans rejected communism during the Great Depression.
- Divide students into groups of three or four, and give each group either capitalism or communism. Students should work together to determine pros and cons related to capitalism and communism.
- Have each group present its results to the rest of the class, discussing both sides of the issue and Margaret Walker’s arguments on the topic.
- Each group should record the pros and cons of the topic as presented by the other groups. Students should write the topic at the top of a piece of paper, draw a line down the center, and put “pro” on one side and “con” on the other.
- Give each group about 20 minutes to discuss the issues presented by the other groups and to list the pros and cons on their argument sheet.
- After 20 minutes, see if students need more time to talk. Remind students to complete the argument sheet so that they have a guide to help them present their topics.
- Have each group present their topics to the whole class by first stating the issue, then discussing the pros and cons. Ask if they had trouble seeing both sides of each issue. Why or why not?
The teacher should decide how to create incentives and opportunities for the students to write. For the most part, grading should be informally assessed based on participations.
Although teachers may wish to develop a grading rubric for this lesson, they should be wary of giving poor grades that might deter students from writing and contributing to class on their own.
One possible grading rubric for participation could include:
- Talking at least THREE times during the presentation = A (or the equivalent);
- Talking at least TWICE = B (or the equivalent);
- Talking at least ONCE = C (or the equivalent);
- Not talking = D and below (or the equivalent).
In order to account for students who are too reticent to talk in class, each student’s argument sheet can graded for detail and completion, including:
- At least FIVE pros and FIVE cons = A+ (or the equivalent);
- At least FOUR pros and FOUR cons = A (or the equivalent);
- At least THREE pros and THREE cons = B (or the equivalent);
- At least TWO pros and TWO cons = C (or the equivalent);
- At least ONE pro and ONE con = D (or the equivalent);
- A blank sheet = F (or the equivalent).