Eighth Graders Argue for Justice

Eighth Graders in Denise Konner and Linda Katz’s English classes have embarked on their most ambitious assignment of the year: a four-page-plus persuasive/argumentative research paper supported by at least five outside sources. Students begin by choosing a topic about which they feel passionately and for which there is a substantial controversy. Once the paper is complete, the students redesign their findings into a five-minute oral presentation and deliver it in front of the class, including visuals.

“An assignment of this magnitude can take up to two months to complete and develops so many important skill sets,” said Ms. Konner. “Time management and organizational skills, paraphrasing and citation skills, public speaking and oral presentation skills: the list is extensive!”

“In order to produce a convincing five-page paper, the topics must be more universal and not community specific,” Ms. Konner explained. “Students have tackled gun control, capital punishment, the electoral college, and currently charged topics like whether or not college athletes should get paid.”

“We had a sheet of possible topics to choose from,” said Cameron Coates ’26, “or we could come up with our own. I enjoyed this project because I could pick something I was interested in, instead of someone choosing the topic for me.”

As part of the process, students meet with Kristen Armstrong, Upper School Librarian, and with Carrie Johnson, Middle School Technology Instructor, to learn about research databases, reliable sources, and how to find information outside of Google, Wikipedia, and SparkNotes.

“Middle school students work on one research project at each grade level, but this is first time they are conducting the research on their own,” said Ms. Konner. “They begin to identify good resources from bad, and they learn that, sometimes, you have to sort through a lot of information before you find something useful.”

Eighth Grader Maia Frank agreed. “At some points, I found using the databases was hard, but I really enjoyed learning more about my topic. There was so much information. It helped me to view things differently.”

The students use Noodle Tools to help organize and outline their research. Once they are done drafting, they swap papers and peer-edit. After a final review, they turn in their papers—only to begin work on their oral presentations.

“I found the live presentation a little bit scary,” Taahir Jones ’26 admitted. He argued for his reasons why college athletes should be paid. “It was hard to stay still while I was presenting and not fidget!”

As a final step, audience members provide written commentary on the presentations. This action reinforces the concept of being a good audience member, asking questions, and thinking critically about how well a peer argued for their topic.

“Presenting at the end was fun,” Eric Crickenberger ’26 said. She took the position that electric cars must first improve their manufacturing process to truly make a positive environmental impact. “Since I know everyone in the class, I didn’t find it that difficult. I enjoyed talking about my topic and sharing everything I learned.”

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