This classroom exercise adapts An Exercise in Finding Problems, from Williams & Colomb, A Guide to Teaching the Craft of Argument, pp. 193-96, to collective classroom work. It is an interactive worksheet and guided discussion, which helps students with a first draft learn how the problem in their problem statement exists within the context of a Larger Question, so they can write their next draft with more focus and meaning. Because the questions in the teaching guide are good, but hard, students gain support and insight from working them out together, and once they’ve done this in class, you can expect them to work it up on their own with no difficulty.

 

The Larger Question Exercise

Instructor Support Notes

You need this concept: things are more complicated than they seemed at the beginning.

Have students bring in a full, but early draft.

Hand out the Larger Question Worksheets (separate page, below) and have them answer the questions or fill in the blanks below, in steps, as you intersperse the exercise with guided discussion as follows. Students all work up step 1 while you wait. 

  1. The most important thing I learned from the research in this paper is ___________________________________________________­___________. Ask a volunteer to share their answer, and ask the rest of the class to pitch in ideas for the answer to item 2: write these Larger Questions on the board. Repeat this with a couple of students, until the class is comfortable with the process, and you can mention how much this piece looks like a claim of some kind. Then ask each student to write their own answer to item 2:
  2. Now that I know that, I understand better the larger Question of _______________________________________________________________. Ask another volunteer to explain what they had to find out about to reach that understanding. If they say it sounds just like item 1, point out that it is closely related, but that the little differences are important; good argument often turns on fine points and subtle wording. You can throw in the idea that this information destabilized what the student knew at the beginning. Repeat this with a couple of more volunteers, then allow the class to once again fill in their own blanks on item 3:
  3. To reach that understanding I had to find out about ________________________. By now they’ll be getting the idea, and you can run through step 4 fairly quickly, pointing out how much it looks like common ground:
  4. Since most readers don’t know what I know, they probably think ________________________________________________________________. After you show that this could be the problem their claim corrects or solves, step back and help them recognize how the things they wrote resemble parts of argument. Then the students should be ready to take the worksheet home and complete item 5:
  5. Recognize the parts of argument, and rewrite the problem statement.

 

Below is the worksheet you can copy out and give the students to fill in in class

 

Larger Question Worksheet

  1. The most important thing I learned from the research in this paper is                ___________________________________________________-___________.
  2. Now that I know that, I understand better the larger Question of _______________________________________________________________.
  3. To reach that understanding I had to find out about ________________________.
  4. Since most readers don’t know what I know, they probably think ________________________________________________________________.
  5. Recognize the parts of argument, and rewrite the problem statement.