Reasoning and Arguments
Topics: Arguments, premises, reasoning
Grade level: Middle School
Time: 50 minutes
Objectives: These consist in a series of exercises intended to introduce concepts like arguments, reasons, premises, validity, and soundness
Materials needed: Paper, writing utensil
First, put these three words on the board: conclusion, premise, argument. Ask the students what these words mean. Often students will need a little guidance here because this is a foreign way of thinking for them. Then give them a very simple argument.
P1. If you’re about to eat, you should wash your hands.
P2. You’re about to eat.
C: Therefore, you should wash your hands.
Ask the students whether this is a good argument or not. Ask them specifically if the conclusion is well supported by the premises. Ask them if the premises are true.
Then provide an example of an inductive argument (no need to actually label it as such). For example:
P1. All the ravens I have ever seen are black.
P2. The bird I hear outside my window is a raven.
C: Therefore, if I look at the raven, it will be black.
Again, ask them if the premises support the conclusion and if the premises are true.
Provide them one more example, this time of an argument in which the premises and the conclusion are true, but the premises do not support the conclusion. For example:
P1: Cakes are desserts.
P2: Desserts are usually sweet.
C: Therefore, at least one carrot exists.
They will likely laugh and follow that enjoyment up by asking what went wrong here?
Now have the students come up with an argument for something fairly straightforward. For example, “School should start later in the day” or “School uniforms should be required.”
Have the students write down their arguments on their pieces of paper. After a few minutes, have them trade with a partner. Have the partners answer the following questions: Do the premises support the conclusion? Why or why not? Are the premises true? Why or why not? Have them trade back when finished so the students can read the responses to their arguments. Give them a couple of minutes to discuss with each other what they wrote.
Ask the students to share their arguments with the class.
Now, if there’s time, providing a controversial argument that let’s the students apply their skills in a way that’s exciting to them.
P1. We shouldn’t hurt something if it can feel pain.
P2. Animals can feel pain.
P3. Therefore, we shouldn’t hurt animals.
P4. Butchering meat for human consumption causes animals pain.
C: Therefore, we shouldn’t butcher meat for human consumption.
Ask the students to discuss with each other in small groups what they think of this argument, emphasizing whether the premises support the conclusions or not and whether the premises are true or not.
Open the discussion up to the entire class, allowing them to freely go back and forth with one another. End by recapping the definitions of premise, conclusion, argument, as well as how you applied these concepts to the examples.
This lesson plan was contributed by Dustin Addington.