Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Strategy: Mad Libs Debate

Mad Libs were first published in 1958 and have been popular with children ever since. Prompted by parts of speech, players fill in a template with words of their choosing and plug them into blanks in a story. The results are often humorous, and kids have a laugh while learning about parts of speech.

This activity can be altered to help students understand many aspects of literacy. This variation is intended to help students learn how to structure an argument and cite sources to support it. If desired, a teacher could provide students with editorials or opinion columns on two sides of one issue and stage a “debate” with the results.

Start by finding opinion pieces on two different sides of an important issue, such as American Idol. In this commentary , the author argues that the popular television talent show is an "integral part of the American landscape." Here, an author contends that Idol is a grotesque freak show.

Students will read one opinion or the other and, in groups, identify items A-F on our Answer Sheet. In order to do this, they will need to know how to identify an author's main argument, understand how that argument is supported, and be able to cogently offer their own opinion on the matter.

Once the answer sheet is completed, students need only plug items A-F into their corresponding spaces on the Argument Template.

A full answer sheet might look something like this. If you put those answers into the template, you have a rudimentary persuasive argument.

As you'll see, the activity did not create a perfectly-written argument. It does not flow all that well, and it is a bit redundant. But for our purposes, that might be a good thing. This activity gives students practice in identifying authors' key arguments and forming their own. Most importantly, it gives them an introduction to how those skills can be used to cite examples in persuasive writing.

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