In this activity, Jerusha Achterberg has her students work in groups to develop persuasive arguments.
First, she gives them a claim. In this particular exercise, she gave them information about the cholera outbreak in North America in 1832, when people fled to the countryside, and then gives them the claim that "flight from cholera in this situation is adaptive."
Next, groups are assigned a position on this adaptive claim: 2 groups have to agree and 2 have to disagree. As they discuss with their groups, Jerusha circulates, answering any questions. In their groups, students decide how to defend their position. They receive a handout which, along with the claim they are arguing about, prompts them to consider which assumptions they must make to defend their position and has a list of questions to aid their discussion.
After groups discuss, Jerusha calls on the group that seems most prepared and tells them to convince her of their side. The groups then argue their positions. In the end, there is no right answer, but a better-argued answer.
Jerusha notes that the idea is to have them pick apart ideas and create an argument of their own with limited knowledge of cholera. That way, they are forced to be conscious of what information they need in order to advance their argument. Ideally, then, when they write their papers, they will be able to identify what information they need to make a good argument and then look for it.
See the attached handout for more information.