With the advent of online forums, blogs and social networks like Facebook, the concept of "debate" has become a lost art. These days, everyone blurts out whatever idea they believe is right, whether or not it's supported by a strong argument and solid evidence.
However, understanding how to establish a good argument for your belief is a valuable skill that students should learn before going to college and then into the workforce beyond. The ability to establish sound reasoning comes with practice.
The best way to instill those skills into your students is to first teach them how to "mind map" both sides of any argument. This is sort of a pro-con exercise, where the student is forced to step outside their personal beliefs and instead study a question based solely on supporting arguments.
One excellent tool that can help students do this is called Argumentative.
The premise behind Argumentative is starting with a "Premise", or a statement, and then tracing through the reasons that support that statement, or tracing through the objectives that disprove it.
The software lays out this "argument" flow in a flow-chart style mind map. This makes it not only easy to see the flow of logic on either side of the argument, but it also provides a very clear, graphical overview of which side of the argument has logic and reasoning behind it.
Main Screen of Argumentative
The appearance of the mind map is very customizable. Under Tools -> Options, you'll find all of the ways that you can tweak how the flowchart looks. Maybe you'd like wider boxes or different box colors, or maybe you like arrows instead of straight lines between the boxes.
The General tab under options lets you modify the lines, arrow ends, the justification of text in the boxes, and how the entire diagram is organized. Later in this article I'll show you what the left to right flow looks like compared to the top-down flow.
To build the flow of logic beyond the default mind map, all you have to do is highlight a reason, objection, or helper and then click "Add" to append another reason, objection or helper at the end of that line of logic. You can also use the shortcut keys as shown on the menu to quickly add those items straight from within the mind map display.
Appending More Logic
As you build up your pro-con arguments, you'll see the structure of the tree in the left menu start to grow as well. "P" stands for the premise that the entire argument is based on. "R" is a reason for or against a premise. "H" is a helper argument that supports a reason or objection.
Building Tree Logic
Of course "O" stands for the objections. These letters are also color-coded to help you view the flow of logic from the top of the tree to the bottom. The easier view of the argument is clearly in the mind map frame, where you can see the line of logic flowing underneath each side of the argument. The boxes follow the same color codes as the letters, so that you know when you're looking at a reason, objection or helper argument.
Mind Map Pane
The software also comes with a print feature that you can use to print out your overall argument mind-map when you're done. This is helpful for students that might be taking part in a debate, and want to have the logic of their side of the argument printed in a flow-chart that's easy to follow during the debate.
Printing the Mind Map
Another nice feature, as mentioned above, is the ability to change the flow of the argument mind map from top/bottom to left/right. For many people, a left-to-right flow provides a clearer display of the logic than the top-to-bottom flow. Whichever format you choose really comes down to personal preference. You can change the view format at any time on-the-fly.
Changing Mind Map Format
Another very nice feature of the software is that when students are finished developing a mind map, beyond printing it out, they can also export the display to an MS Word Document, an MS PowerPoint show, or if you're familiar with using XSLT stylesheets, you use them to transform a structured argument into other formats as well.
Argumentative is a very useful tool for many different school subjects. Using it in Literature class, students could trace through the pros and cons of a characters choices during a crisis in the novel. Using it in Science class, students could debate scientific theories that have yet to be proven.
There are many creative ways to use Argumentative in a classroom environment; the limits only come down to the teacher's own imagination.
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