Lesson plan

Literary Argument Writing: Defining Your Topic

This lesson will help your young writers develop a claim, or thesis, and construct an argument around it. You may have students complete the essay by continuing the process with the lesson Literary Argument Writing: Drafting Your Essay.
Grade Subject View aligned standards

Students will be able to construct an argument around a claim about a piece of literature that they have read.

(5 minutes)
  • Tell students that you are going to read aloud a short story by Langston Hughes called Thank You, Ma’am. Explain that while you are reading you want them to listen carefully and try to draw a conclusion (make a judgement) about one of the two main characters. Tell them you will discuss their conclusions after the story. You may need to provide a sentence starter to help them understand what a conclusion is, such as “I think that (character) is (adjective)," or "I think that (character) did (action) because (reason)."
  • Read Thank You Ma’am by Langston Hughes to the class.
(20 minutes)
  • Explain that students will be thinking about a book or story and selecting a topic to construct a literary argument. You may want to have them all refer to a common text, such as Thank You, Ma’am.
  • Pass out the Literary Argument Writing: Selecting Your Topic worksheet.
  • Project the worksheet using a document camera.
  • As a class, discuss the following points and take notes on the worksheet:
    • Important parts of the story
    • Observations they made about characters
    • Possible themes of the story
    • Predictions about how this experience might influence the boy’s future decisions
  • Shape some of the thinking above into examples of claims (or thesis statements) that could be the focus of a literary essay. The worksheet will walk you through this process.
(10 minutes)
  • Have students select one of the claims that were generated in the class discussion and tell them that they will now make sure that they can construct an argument around this claim.
  • Pass out the Literary Argument Writing: Supporting Your Claim worksheet.
  • Have students fill in the title of the story they are writing about and the claim that they have selected.
  • Guide students to identify one reason that supports their claim and have them write it on the sheet where it says 'Reason #1,' modeling on your sheet as you go.
  • Then model how you would go back to the text to identify two pieces of evidence to support the reason, and note them on your paper for the class to see.
(15 minutes)
  • Have them go through the process for the second reason independently and list supporting evidence.
  • Circulate around the room to assist students who may be struggling. Encourage students to use peers for support as well.


  • Use Thank You, Ma’am as the story on which the entire class bases their argument essay. That way you’ll be able to scaffold the process with a common text and share ideas.


  • After constructing the literary argument (using the Literary Argument Writing: Selecting Your Topic worksheet) have students map out their essay using the Argument Writing Template worksheet in the fifth grade resources.
(10 minutes)
  • Evaluate student work (Argument Writing: Supporting My Claim worksheet) to assess the degree to which students can construct their argument.
(10 minutes)
  • Have students share their claim, reasons, and evidence with a peer or small group.
  • Select one or two examples (with student permission) to display for the class. Review and point out how the argument flows from the claim, to the reasons, to the evidence from the text.

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