SOCIAL MEDIA

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Engage Your Students with Argument Writing and Hamilton



When I first found out, after a few years out of the classroom, that our curriculum now wanted 7th grade students to write an argumentative essay on the first few weeks of school, I was dumbfounded. I was not sure my students were able to craft a good enough sentence. Yet, here I was, needing to prove myself as an [old] new teacher that was up to the expectations of the new job and who could get students to master all the standards. My first attempt at the argumentative essay was mediocre. I picked a topic that was not really relevant to my students, and I ended up grading 120+ very similar-sounding, boring essays in the span of a month. There had to be a better way.

After a year back at school, I discovered Hamilton Musical, and if you follow me a bit in social media, you should know I’m a little obsessed. Of course, after I listened to the soundtrack, I bought the “Hamiltome”, the book that includes the play's libretto, background info, pictures and Lin-Manuel Miranda's lyrics footnotes. When I read it, I discovered something amazing. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda had written one of his songs—Satisfied—in the structure of a 5-paragraph essay. So I thought, “What if I were to put my students to read and analyze this song’s structure, so they can use it as a model to write their own essay?". Since my curriculum prompted students to write their essay taking a stance for or against a character’s decision in a story, this song was actually the perfect piece of literature. That’s how Love vs. Reason: Taking a Stance on Satisfied (Amor o razón: argumentando sobre Satisfied, in its Spanish version) was born. It dissects the song Satisfied, and later uses it as the base for students’ own argumentative writing piece and a whole class debate.

Although it may seem weird to take an English song and analyze it in Spanish class, and some may argue that a romantic triangle is a grown up topic for 7th grade, if there is a way to make learning argument essay writing relevant, enjoyable and doable for tweens, I’m gonna do it! Students love it, we keep it clean, and it just works!

I’m not going to lie. Each time I start working on this unit with my kids, I tell myself time and time again: “Why are you doing this?”, “Why didn’t you make them write an essay on their favorite pet or something?”, “You brought this upon yourself”... The thing is, since they are just in 7th grade, they need a lot of support. I really get involved in guiding each pair of students. Yes, I make them write a collaborative essay. I learned from my first experience that I wanted to cut in half my essay grading time, at least in this grade.


Still, it is E X H A U S T I N G. My students work on these essays for three whole 90-minute periods, conferencing and editing with me along the way, left only to take their draft home to type their final draft. (I would love to do that at school, but we do not have a computer lab.) After all the tribulations, when I finally get to the point of grading, it is SO worth it! Their writing is impressive! Don’t forget these kids are only 12-year-olds! This close-up is just tiny evidence of the writing of one of my students.




I’ve shared this resource with a coworker who teaches 11th grade (the English version) and her students loved it as well. It really can be as simple or complicated as your students’ level allows and/or how much you guide them through the writing process. Seventh graders and beyond will enjoy this unit very much.

Last year, school was crazy after Hurricane María and I decided against doing this with my students. But, Hamilton is coming to Puerto Rico on January 2019, so I couldn’t NOT do this unit!

The resource includes an attractive Power Point presentation with public domain photos to introduce the students to the musical and the song, an outline that helps dissect the song’s argumentative structure, and another partially-filled outline to guide students in the writing process of their own love vs. reason 5-paragraph argumentative essay. In addition, another presentation explains the rules for a formal debate, and kids get a debate-prepping handout. Teachers can follow the included suggested timeline and use the included writing and debate rubrics or edit them to their needs.

Both Spanish and English versions of this unit are in my TpT. If you have used any of the versions, I'd love to read your feedback! I hope you love the process as much as I do. Or, if you have any questions, don't be afraid to ask below!