A difficulty I find my students repeatedly stumbling through is the ability to spot and present arguments in science. This is mainly seen on questions that require an answer relating to a human response; why might people think X or what are the benefits from Y..? Getting students beyond an inadequate answer of ‘ethical issues’ or ‘religion’ can take some time, so I adopted this approach, using it as a quick (read: no planning required) and easy way to get students to think of ways to present arguments more effectively.
The idea is to present common ‘areas of discourse’. These are the familiar themes people take when presenting their arguments, though they may not all be so obvious at first. I would pick three or four from a list, either drawing up a grid on the board or using a PowerPoint slide. The areas I use are broadly:
Of course there are more areas, and not all areas suit all topics at the same time. I present the grid as a simple for/against, with the students filling in an argument for each box. It forces them into thinking about counter-arguments and it’s interesting to see some of the contortions they get into to when trying to avoid an argument that they clearly think is irrelevant or flat-out wrong. I also stress the importance of recognising these arguments in real life examples and seeing how often arguments (the shouty kind) develop when two people are simply arguing from different areas of discourse rather than addressing a question. They can discover for themselves later on how many of times the economic viewpoint seems to smother the rest…