Online class discussion is often a large portion of online curriculum and where a lot of the learning happens. Making sound arguments is a critical skill to develop, especially in the online environment.
In their book, They Say, I Say, Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein identify argumentation methods to use in the classroom that result in meaningful learning. They delve into various rhetorical strategies such as: summarizing and quoting, planting naysayers, connecting the parts, metacommentary, and more.
The content in chapter 11: I Take Your Point: Entering Class Discussions, refers mostly to synchronous discussion, but the authors’ ideas can also be applied to online discussion forums. Graff and Birkenstein explain that “our own ideas become more cogent and powerful the more responsive we are to others, and the more we frame our claims not in isolation but as responses to what others before us have said.” This is the spirit of They Say, I Say.
Below are three of the many tips the authors offer to engage in meaningful discussion:
Frame Your Comments As a Response To Something That Has Already Been Said
Link what you are about to say to something that has already been said.
- I really liked Amy’s point about the two sides being closer than they seem. I’d add that both seem rather moderate.
- I take your point, Nathan, that ____________. Still, _______.
- Though Sara and Richard seem to be at odds about _________, they may actually not be all that far apart.
Indicate Explicitly That You Are Changing the Subject
It’s okay to change the direction of a conversation, but it is important to make it clear that it is intended to avoid coming across as irrelevant.
- So far we have been talking about the ________. But isn’t the real issue here the _________?
- I’d like to change the subject to one that hasn’t yet been addressed.
Establish Why Your Claim Matters
Highlighting the real-world applications and consequences of your claims will help your classmates understand the importance of your argument.
- Although _____ may seem trivial, it is in fact crucial in terms of today’s concern over _________.
- Ultimately, what is at stake here is ________.
- This discovery will have significant applications in _______ as well as in ________.
- These findings have important consequences for the broader domain of __________.
By applying the approaches of They Say, I Say, you can easily make your classroom discussions more meaningful for yourself and for your classmates.
Graff, G., & Birkenstein, C. (2010). They say, I say. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.