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Enter the Dialogue - A Dramatic Approach to Critical Thinking and Writing

By:  Vincent Ryan Ruggerio, 1985 - Wadsworth Publishing Company

Subject:  Advanced English

Grade: 11th

Behavioral Objective:  The students will begin to understand the basic concepts of critical thinking as pertaining to English composition activities.  Students will begin to learn research tips as well as using logic ideas in their writing projects.

Cognitive domain: The students will begin to use critical thinking skills in their writing after learning to understand basic logic in writing.

Affective domain:  The students will begin to see and hear how much better their writing is when using the rules of logic in their writing.

Psychomotor domain:  The students will write their assignments using these rules of grammar and punctuation and logic in their assignments.

To the student:

Ten Research Expectations (The teacher can dictate or write these on the blackboard.}

  1.  Plan your composition before you write it.
  2. Select a controlling idea and use it to guide your writing.
  3. Have a specific purpose, clearly stated goal you wish to achieve with your readers.
  4. Be sensitive to your readers’ needs.
  5. Be exact and economical in your expression.
  6. Make your writing lively.
  7. Break your thoughts into paragraphs.
  8. Use standard punctuation.
  9. Observe the conventions of spelling, grammar and usage.
  10. Revise your rough draft.

 The teacher can offer various mini-lessons on spelling, grammar and usage when needed.

Misconceptions About Dialogue

  1.  That all opinions are equal, so if two people disagree on an issue, both are right.  That if people are convinced something is right, then it is right for them.
  2.  That is a sign of intolerance to disagree with others or to challenge their view.
  3. That explanation is justification; in other words, that if a person can explain the reasoning that lead to a particular conclusion, then the conclusion must be legitimate.
  4. That the speaker who dominates a dialogue-who says more than others or raise points they can’t answer- is thereby the one whose view is correct.

Express your judgement carefully.

  1. Record your thoughts on paper from the moment you begin addressing an issue.
  2. When you later evaluate your notes and form your judgements-considering-comparing- to get alternatives.  Assess implications and consequences of preliminary judgements and then modify judgement accordingly.
  3. When revising your composition, look for passages in which you have left a judgement implied rather than directly stated.

Keep the emphasis on your judgement.

  1. Look closely at the ideas of each authority you consulted through an interview or through library research.
  2. If the authorities you consult all agree in their interpretations and judgements, put your imagination to work and consider what objections to their view someone who disagrees might cause.
  3. If the authorities you consult differ in their interpretations and judgements; compare their views and decide the relative strengths and weaknesses of each.
  4. If you find the authorities in substantial agreement and you cannot think of any objections to their common position.

(The teacher could teach mini-lessons on rhetoric.) (The teacher can dictate or write these on blackboard.)

Common Reactions

  1. What is the meaning of this passage?
  2. What is the relevance of this statement to the issue under discussion?
  3. How does this idea relate to what the author said earlier? Are the ideas compatible?
  4. Why does the author believe this? What is his or her basis for asserting it?
  5. What evidence does the author have that the problem is as serious or significant as stated, or that the solution proposed is effective.
  6. Is the evidence cited by the author representative? Are the situations he or she presents typical?

Build a balanced case.

Persuasion is more likely to occur when the writer’s case is balanced then when it overwhelms the readers. 

Three characteristics

  1.  It is forceful, but now never overwhelming.
  2. Begins on a point of agreement (p.123) psychologically difficult to overstate when you launch right into disagreement with your readers you put them on the defensive.
  3. Is fair, generously conceding points to the opposing sides of the argument, whenever it is reasonable to do so.

Thinking Strategy

  • Control your bias.
  • Understand each side of an issue.
  • Analyze each side for errors and assumptions.
  • Investigate as necessary to accumulate evidence.
  • Evaluate the evidence.
  •      Form a judgement
  •      Refine your position

When to reserve judgement? Whenever you don’t know enough about the issue to make a responsible judgement (p.89).

How to form a judgement?

  1.  Consider alternative arguments to these expressed in the dialogue.
  2. Compare all arguments and make a preliminary judgement.
  3. Assess the implications and consequences of your judgement.
  4. Modify your judgement as necessary.

Some Common Unwarranted Assumptions (Write on blackboard)

  1. The assumption that people’s senses are always trustworthy.
  2. The assumption that having reasons provides assurance that reasoning has taken place.
  3. The assumption that conviction constitutes proof.
  4. The assumption that familiarity is the measure of validity.
  5. The assumption that if one went closely follows another in time, it must have been caused by the other.
  6. The assumption that if the majority believes something it must be so.
  7. The assumption that the way things are is the way they should be.

Avoiding ‘fallacy frenzy’ (teacher could try to define this ‘term’.)

  • Remember to look for errors not merely for the sake of finding them but as a step toward constructing the most reasonable view on the issue.
  • Common errors in dialogue- (teacher could review usage rules as a mini-lesson)
  • Either-or thinking- viewing a particular reality solely in terms of opposing extremes when, in fact, other views are possible.
  • Stereotyping-ignoring someone’s or something’s individuality and focusing instead on some preconceived notion about the person or thing.
  • Attacking the person-consists of disposing of argument by attacking the person who advance it.
  • Contradiction-when a person makes two assertions that are logically inconsistent with each other.
  • Faulty analogy-when analogies are not real.
  • Faulty causation- 1. Concluding that one thing caused another merely because of their proximity in time and space.  2. Concluding that learning why people are entrusted in an issue is the same as evaluating, their thinking about the issue.

Irrational appeal- Four Kinds

  1. Appeal to emotion- is rational when it accompanies thought and analysis and irrational when it substitutes for them.
  2. Appeal to tradition in faith- rational when the particular practice or belief is regarded in light of present circumstances and rational when it means - to believe.
  3. Appeal to moderation- rational when the moderate approach is offered as the best solution to the problem or issue and irrational when moderation is merely a convenient way to avoid offending someone or to make the responsibility of judgement.
  4. Appeal to authority- rational when it acknowledges the falliability of people and their institutions and the possibilities of differing interpretations and irrational when it disallows reasonable questions and challenges.

Hasty conclusions- one that is drawn without appropriate evidence, it is a conclusion chosen without sufficient reason from two or more possible conclusions.

They are attempting in situations where prior opinions compromise objectivity.  Leads to uncritical acceptance.

Overgeneralizations- is a judgement about a class of people or things made after observation of a number of members of that class.

Based upon insufficient observation explained by the natural human tendency to classify sensory data in a tidy way and by the difficulty of determining what in any other situation constitutes ‘sufficient evidence’.


Simplification aids understanding and communication legitimate as long as it does not distract the reality it describes-now becomes oversimplification.


In writing compositions, it is important to use these rules and assumptions to make writing more understandable and actually more fun to do.

(The teacher can dictate or write these reactions on the blackboard.)

Written by Mark Graham, Education World® Contributing Writer

Mark has earned two Bachelor degrees, a Master's, a Post-master's and Doctorate in Education, College teaching, Curriculum and instruction, Reading and literacy as well as a certificate in Children's literature.