PublicationsSystematic reviewsArgumentative non-fiction writing, 7-14Press release
Teaching argumentative non-fiction writing to 7–14 year olds: A systematic review of the evidence of successful practice. Press release

New EPPI-Centre Review: Teaching argumentative non-fiction writing to 7–14 year olds

30 June 2006

Teachers need to be helped to prepare pupils to argue well in writing, starting at primary school by encouraging them to reason, to think critically, and to use specific techniques to improve writing skills in this area, according to a new review of research.

The Government-funded review, led by Professor Richard Andrews and Dr Carole Torgerson of the University of York, found that successful writing practice depends on motivated pupils being encouraged to plan, draft, edit and revise their writing and requires some degree of training in cognitive reasoning – the combination of reasoning and specific compositional skills is the key. It is also promoted by peer collaboration, where pupils develop their ideas through dialogue.

Specific strategies that help 7–14 year olds with argumentative non-fiction writing include giving them structures and devices that aid composition, such as ‘brainstorming’, organising and sequencing ideas, and evaluating them, say the researchers. They found that planning that was ‘extensive, elaborated and hierarchical’ could produce better argued and written essays.

In one study, for instance, teachers successfully used the mnemonic TREE to help pupils organise their essays: Tell what you believe (i.e. state the proposition or ‘topic sentence’), give three or more Reasons (to support why you believe this), Examine each reason (why will my reader buy it?), and End it (write a conclusion).

Other helpful strategies included the use of oral argument to inform written argument, the identification of the target audience for the writing, and the demonstration of argumentative writing by the teacher.

The review comes at a time when teachers, pupils and policy-makers are keen to know how best to teach and learn this kind of writing at Key Stages 2 and 3 in the National Curriculum. Competence in writing lags behind that in reading in Key Stage 2 assessment tests, and pupils find non-fiction writing especially difficult.

Teachers are often unsure how to teach argumentative non-fiction writing, partly because most of them are trained in the literary tradition.

The review team sought out studies of teaching this kind of writing that had been published in English since 1990. They selected 29 for close inspection and chose the best 11 as the basis for their report. Of these, ten were from the USA and one from Canada.

Now the researchers want to see new studies carried out in the UK on the teaching and learning of argumentative writing in the 7–14 age group, to help teachers teach and pupils learn how to tackle it.

‘The development of such writing skills for pupils is essential in helping to develop a critical voice and for participation in the world of work and in democracies,’ they say.

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