The Four-Sentence Paper

Teaching Philosophy 38 (1):49-76 (2015)
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Abstract

They say that argumentative writing skills are best learned through writing argumentative essays. I say that while this is excellent practice for argumentative writing, an important exercise to practice structuring such essays and build critical thinking skills simultaneously is what I call the four-sentence paper. The exercise has the template They say..., I say..., one might object..., I reply... One might object that the assignment oversimplifies argumentative writing, stifles creativity, promotes an adversarial attitude, or that students can’t consider objections well anyway. I reply that a simplified form of argumentative writing is fine for beginners, especially since the template is ubiquitous in philosophy; that any assignment template has room for creativity; that considering objections is consistent with good manners; and that despite some pitfalls of trying to defend a thesis and consider objections, students are capable of considering objections well with proper instruction and practice.

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