Argument mapping is the core of what we do!
We’re currently raising money for an online course, and we design custom lesson plans for our school partners.
What is an argument map?
An argument map is, roughly speaking, a ‘picture’ of the reasoning in a text.
Arguments have structures: what claims does the author make? What reasons and evidence does the author use to support which claim, and how do these support relationships work? Argument structure is different from the sequence of the prose on the page. A map strips the argument to its bare essentials and makes this structure visible and clear.
Why visualize arguments?
Our brains process visual information much faster than verbal information. This is why charts and graphics help us understand data, and why road maps help us navigate. Often, a picture is better than a thousand words.
Argument maps allow you to quickly see and understand support relationships among claims, reasons, and evidence. These support relationships may be left unclear in a text or buried in long blocks of prose, but mapping makes them clear and explicit. In this way, a map significantly reduces the cognitive load while working through an argument.
An argument map also makes an excellent visual touchstone for class discussions, debates and presentations.
What do you mean by an argument?
An argument is a statement of a bit of reasoning. Generally, an argument consists of a main claim and the reasons and evidence offered in support of that main claim. The argument aims to provide a justification for believing the main claim. We use arguments to critique and evaluate ideas, claims, texts, and other arguments.
- may use strong or terrible reasoning. (A bad argument is still an argument!)
- may leave supporting claims and reasons unstated (implicit).
- can be the size of a whole book (Plato’s Republic), or just a few words (“I think, therefore I am.”)
- may appear as a discussion or debate between two or more people.
Why do we care about arguments?
Arguments are everywhere! We encounter them…
- literary and historical analysis
- science (inductive arguments from evidence)
- math (proofs)
- political propaganda
- social justice and reform rhetoric
- daily life: ethics, religion and spirituality
- personal decision-making (weighing options)
- giving advice (“you should…”)
Successfully recognizing and evaluating arguments is essential to living well.
Why teach argument mapping?
Argument mapping helps students…
- Engage texts
- close-read: what exactly is the author claiming?
- reconstruct: explain the argument in your own words.
- evaluate: how strong is the argument? Could it be stated better?
- respond: do you agree?
- Analytical skills
- plan and organize persuasive writing.
- discuss and present in the classroom.
- target logic and critical thinking skills.
These close-reading and analytical skills help students meet the demands of the Common Core, the new SAT, and college courses.
Do students like argument mapping?
YES. Argument mapping is an activity: both visual and kinetic. The activity helps students engage complex arguments–making them more careful readers and attentive collaborators.
Students like working through mapping exercises because they can readily see their progress and demonstrate their skills. They recognize immediately that this is something they want to do. After learning to map arguments, they find themselves doing it all the time.
In 2015, 22 interns reported 8 out of 10 for “Argument mapping is fun,” and 9 out of 10 for “I improved in understanding arguments.” Moreover, 9 of our 11 Harvard Summer School students strongly agreed “I was willing to work hard in this course” and “I found the course intellectually engaging.”
“It was all such a new way of thinking! I remember wanting to keep discussing the concepts we learned even after the lesson was over.” –Emily Z.
“It was unbelievable to see how much I was able to add and how much I could remove to build an even stronger argument. Just through critical analysis, I could improve my essay writing, my debating, and my simple conversations to make them more powerful and convincing.” –Jake G.
“Every week was such a fun time in meeting different people and learning about reasoning and arguments (which is actually really fun.) …I learned the importance of reasoning and understanding how arguments flow logically.” –Rebekah S.
Can you make maps online?
Yes. Mapping software allows students to create, save, and share maps with peers and teachers. Software also helps teachers give precise, targeted feedback on student work.
We’re currently raising money to develop our own free mapping software! Check back for updates.
Fortunately, you can easily make maps on chalkboards, whiteboards, and good old fashioned pen and paper.
ThinkerAnalytix uses a simple, powerful tool called argument mapping to help students visualize reasoning and evidence. This tool will be the centerpiece of our reasoning course because constructing and receiving feedback on argument maps is the kind of practice that improves reasoning skills.
Reasoning is structured, and one of the fundamentals of reasoning is understanding the components of that structure. When students map arguments, they identify claims, reasons, and objections and figure out how those components support or undermine a conclusion.
In our course, students will learn that argument structure is different from the sequence of prose on the page. Understanding this concept is essential for reading persuasive prose and for college-level academic writing.
Here's an example:
From Ronald Dworkin’s “The Right to Ridicule”:
Freedom of speech is not just a special and distinctive emblem of Western culture that might be generously abridged or qualified as a measure of respect for other cultures that reject it, the way a crescent or menorah might be added to a Christian religious display. Free speech is a condition of legitimate government.
Laws and policies are not legitimate unless they have been adopted through a democratic process, and a process is not democratic if government has prevented anyone from expressing his convictions about what those laws and policies should be.
Ridicule is a distinct kind of expression; its substance cannot be repackaged in a less offensive rhetorical form without expressing something very different from what was intended. That is why cartoons and other forms of ridicule have for centuries, even when illegal, been among the most important weapons of both noble and wicked political movements.
So in a democracy no one, however powerful or impotent, can have a right not to be insulted or offended. That principle is of particular importance in a nation that strives for racial and ethnic fairness. If weak or unpopular minorities wish to be protected from economic or legal
discrimination by law—if they wish laws enacted that prohibit discrimination against them in employment, for instance—then they must be willing to tolerate whatever insults or ridicule people who oppose such legislation wish to offer to their fellow voters, because only a community that permits such insult as part of public debate may legitimately adopt such laws.
If we expect bigots to accept the verdict of the majority once the majority has spoken, then we must permit them to express their bigotry in the process whose verdict we ask them to accept.
Whatever multiculturalism means—whatever it means to call for increased “respect” for all citizens and groups—these virtues would be self-defeating if they were thought to justify official censorship.