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Add Counterargument and Rebuttal to Spice Up Any Essay.
Add Counterargument and Rebuttal to Spice Up Any Essay.

Are your students struggling with commentary and analysis? This technique is sure to help, and it's actually fun.

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Written by essaypop
Updated over a week ago
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Students struggle with commentary, so what can we do about it? Try having an argument.

It comes up again and again when we talk to English teachers across the country: most students, when writing an academic paragraph or essay seem to consistently lack the ability or desire to bring substantive commentary and explanation into their writing. They can craft topic sentences and claims, and they can even find relevant evidence and research to support their claims, but when it comes to making sense of it all and interpreting the evidence for the reader, young writers tend to fall short.

There are a number of strategies to address this deficiency. One of our favorites is the “this shows, this also shows” technique which we cover in detail in this article.

Another strategy that we like to employ to get students to bring substantive commentary into their writing is the counterargument/rebuttal technique.

With this approach, we ask students to take a finished piece of writing and reread it while considering what someone who might disagree with them would say in opposition to their assertion(s).

And we don't just ask them to do this for an argumentative piece of writing; we ask them to think about how people might disagree with them when they're analyzing a poem, or explaining a scientific concept, or tracing the causes of the Civil War.

Take a look at this simple analysis of Denise Levertov's poem, Moon Tiger, in which students were asked to explain the true identity of a cryptic animal described in the poem.

This is a pretty basic analysis. It's not terrible, and it does answer the question. What it lacks, however, is a real sense of depth and the student's own voice. For anyone who has ever complained that students tend to get squeamish when it comes to writing commentary, this probably looks pretty familiar. Again, not bad but not deep either. It’s as though the student has checked off the “provide analysis” box and now wants to get the heck out of there.

To address this, we could ask the student to go back and add more commentary, and again we would have you look at the “this shows, this also shows” article referenced above to learn more about this strategy. But the approach we’re suggesting here is to have the student conduct a simple debate with someone within the paragraph itself. I've noticed the students perk up when I suggest this. Get into an argument? In the middle of my writing? That sounds fun!

To set this up in essaypop, we have the students add two discrete writing frames to their piece of writing, the counterargument frame and the rebuttal frame. We have them add these components right after their original presentation of evidence and analysis. It looks like this when completed.

And this is what it looks like once the student has provided the counterargument and rebuttal. Notice that the student has access to comprehensive help cards in the sidebar area. In this case, they can peruse explanations and models of effective counterclaims and comebacks.

Here is what the paragraph looks like as an MLA-formatted document. Essaypop makes this conversion in real-time.

I think you’ll agree that the addition of the counterargument and rebuttal allows the student to go deeper into the overall analysis of the poem. And when you think about it, debate is a form of analysis – and it tends to come naturally. I have found emerging writers who struggle to elaborate on their existing explanations often have their minds “freed up” when they are asked to really defend an assertion against an attack. And what better way to instigate the impulse to defend than by manufacturing some opposition?

As mentioned earlier, counterargument and rebuttal can show up in virtually any kind of writing. As we've seen here, it can emerge in literary analysis, but it also can also find its way into a scientific explanation or an expository piece of writing. I've even had students address counterarguments in process papers. You don't like the way I explain how to change a bicycle tire? Well, let me tell you why you're wrong!

And the fact is, kids love to argue and debate. It's just sort of ingrained in them (just ask my own three kids). Sometimes I'll even have them square off and debate their take on a piece of literature live in class, or this can even be done in groups that you set up in the essaypop Hive. Once they've done a little sparring, I get them back to their desks and immediately have them compose their counterargument and rebuttal while the points made during the discussion are still fresh.

A quick note on the placement of counterargument and rebuttal in a paragraph or short essay; you'll notice that in the example above, these components are placed directly after the student's initial presentation of evidence and analysis and just before the closer. These components could be placed almost anywhere in the writing, of course, but I explain to my students that this is an ideal placement as they've already made some of their major points, so the back-and-forth that follows will naturally use some of the points that have already been made. And when they follow this with a nice resolute closer, the whole piece of writing tends to exhibit an organic and natural flow.

Finally, as with all writing frames, essaypop provides students with sentence starters which are academic stems and phrases that they can shop through to find the perfect way to begin their counterargument or rebuttal. We like to surround students with as much scaffolding as possible. They are accessed from the three-dot dropdown menu.


Just as any meal, breakfast, lunch or dinner is, oddly enough, a perfect time for pancakes, all writing can benefit from a little counterargument and rebuttal. It makes the writing more interesting to read and it allows students who struggle with commentary to find something substantive to say about the topic they are tackling.

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