Interactions Among Branches of Government, Writing for AP Gov

Argumentative Writing for AP Gov- Thesis Statements

*Cartoon from Cagle Cartoons

When I found out that a piece of the AP Government test would be argumentative writing, I was stoked! For the last three years, our school has had argumentative writing as a school goal so I figured, “I don’t even have to spend time teaching this!”

Oh, Liz. Oh, sweet, naive Liz.

I gave an argumentative prompt for Unit One, feeling confident because of the massive document diving we’ve done. I had students peer score to help get use to the FRQ #4 Rubric I received from Dan Devitt at my APSI this summer. I often like to use peer scoring and teacher grading so that students feel comfortable with the rubric and understanding exactly what was expected of them. After grading essays, I saw a HUGE issue. The thesis that students were writing were NOT defensible. The evidence they used was mere quoting. The analysis demanded more. Back to the drawing board we go.

I always tell my students I am training them for a marathon and we don’t need to run the whole thing right now. We need to work on a 5k. I need to take that advice.

I realized that in order for the essay as a whole to be legit, a great thesis was needed. Now, when I taught APUSH {for one year because wow! I bow down to all APUSH teachers} we did a 2-1-1 for our thesis statements and it worked out. So, I needed to develop a formula for AP Government and in particular, for my students who seem to struggle. First, I developed a prewriting for the thesis:

  • Restate the prompt:
  • Choose a side:
  • Tell me why:
  • What is the other side’s claim?
  • Why is yours better?

For example:

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Congressional term limits were a topic, similar to term limits imposed on the office of the president by the 22nd amendment. Develop an argument for or against an amendment imposing term limits on members of Congress.

I don’t have documents (Federalist 53  and 57 would come to mind because we want founding documents) BECAUSE, I want students to write a thesis that can be defended.

  • Restate the prompt: An amendment imposing term limits on members of Congress
  • Choose a side: is directly opposed to the ideas of the Constitution. 
  • Tell me why: because there were no term limits written into the Constitution for any of the three branches and it would take the rights away from the voter’s to choose who they want to represent them.  
  • What is the other side’s claim? Although many critics believe that Congress is corrupt and needs term limits to bring it back to the people, 
  • Why is yours better? the people, according to James Madison, need to be vigilant. This means that the government should not have the power to impose limits on terms of Congress. 

This may or may not work for your class, but I know that for me, I had to be more specific. If you don’t have a good thesis, you don’t have a good essay. End of story.

From now on, I will require all socratic discussions to start with this formula. It’s a small thing, but ends with big results!

I plan to build using evidence during the Presidency, and analysis during the Judiciary which all happen within the next few weeks. The ultimate goal is by my Civil Rights and Liberties Unit (which I do last) is to have 90% of students writing the argumentative essay at at least a 4/6. Lofty? Maybe. Not enough? Probably. But, with the redesign and the shift in mindset away from teaching contentcontentcontent and more application, I think it’s a reasonable goal that will evolve as we move through our semester.

What is your favorite way to teach argumentative essay?

 

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