The Argumentative Essay on the AP Spanish Language and Culture Exam is “arguably” one of the most difficult tasks. It is the open-ended section that takes the most time. It really challenges students to demonstrate excellent reading and listening comprehension skills. Their vocabulary and grammar skills are also put to the test. In addition, the argumentative essay also requires some specific knowledge of good writing skills and how to include the requirements that AP Scorers are looking for.
How To Teach the Argumentative Essay
There are many ways to approach teaching AP Spanish students how to tackle this task. This is my way, and I have had great success! I’m sure there are many other ways too!
First, I start by doing some direct instruction with THIS Google Slides presentation. It contains information like: the rules and requirements of the task, what skills it tests, what the instructions are, Do’s and Don’ts, helpful hints and a short vocabulary list and Quizlet with words and expressions that will raise the level of sophistication of their writing.
I post this presentation in their Google Classroom so that they can refer to it all year long.
The last general strategy I use is to introduce this task early in the year. I find that it takes students several attempts to put it all together, so I don’t want to have just one or 2 practices before the exam in May.
After showing students what the Argumentative Essay entails, I give them the 3 sources from the AP Training book (Does everyone take that course for New AP Spanish Teachers? If not, any practice essay will do! Leave me a comment below if you need names of resources!)
I give time for everyone to read the sources individually. We highlight reading what the question is. That’s really important! I encourage them to underline and note what they think may be helpful in the written sources.
Then I play the listening. I remind them to take notes on what they understand, and not to panic if they don’t understand the first time. (The listening is always played twice.)
Look at Some Examples
In my opinion, starting with a really strong intro paragraph sets students up for success. We look at several intro paragraphs and analyze them for what they did well and what could be improved. HERE are some free samples!
Would you agree that the combination of telling students about requirements and SHOWING them what we mean leads to better understanding? I have found that to be the case, especially with this argumentative essay!
Start With a Group Practice
Now I break students up into groups of 2-3. I do this for 2 reasons. Working together, students have a little more support and confidence. And, when they turn in their work, I give feedback 1/3 the amount of student work. I remind students that they should choose to defend the side that is easiest to write about, not necessarily the side that they personally agree with! This can be really hard for kids!
In their small groups, students are asked to write the entire introductory paragraph. They bring it (or submit it) to me for feedback. I check to be sure that they have a) introduced the topic in a general manner b) have brought up at least 3 points they plan to make in the body of the essay and c) have ended their paragraph with a CLEAR thesis statement (taking a side on the issue).
Next I ask them to write the topic sentence for body paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Argumentative Essay, and to choose one quote that will go with that paragraph. I remind them in the instructions of their work that they must use a quote from each of the 3 sources. I check these as they go or all 3 at once. It depends on my class size that year! I encourage them to have a topic sentence to help them to stay on message. Some students can go off on tangents within their body paragraphs. They won’t have time to finish if they do that, and they won’t be as persuasive either.
Last, I ask them to write the entire conclusion paragraph. It is simpler to write since it goes in opposite order of the intro paragraph. The challenge is to vary vocabulary! And again- feedback on how students did!
The 3rd Body Paragraph of the Argumentative Essay
To be honest, this has been a point of confusion for during my tenure as an AP Spanish Teacher. Some say that the 3rd body paragraph should present an opposing viewpoint, but then negate it. Recently, I have read in the AP Spanish Teacher Forum that students do NOT need to do this.
I feel that it adds a level of sophistication if students are able to do this, so I teach my students how. One of the biggest confusions I see here is that students will use a quote from one of the sources that supports the opposing viewpoint. I encourage them to remove that quote and find one that actually supports THEIR thesis. It requires practice for sure, but students CAN learn how to do this! However, teachers can decide for themselves how to teach this task, or even differentiate for individual students, asking some to negate a point and others to stick with 3 solid reasons why their stance is the right one.
In their practice groups, I have them write the entire paragraph to practice the skill of presenting an opposing argument and proving it wrong.
Next Steps For the Argumentative Essay
In my next blog post, I will write about how we tackle the Argumentative Essay when it’s time to grade them and give feedback.
In the meantime, here are the links to some of the resources I have already created to help students with the Argumentative Essay. If you find them helpful, please use them! However, you can also make up your own resources too using the ideas I presented above.