Argument Writing Unit Sixth Grade – Letter of Complaint

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Argument Writing Unit

Sixth Grade – Letter of Complaint

Module Description (overview):

Students will draft and revise a letter of complaint to a target audience about a problem in their daily lives. To do so, they will brainstorm problems they experience. They will make distinctions between topics and actual problems that affect multiple people and need to be addressed. They will develop their ideas further by examining the effects of a particular problem and coming to understand cause and effect. They will also identify the person or people who can address and even solve the problem they are focused on. This preliminary thinking, research, and writing will prepare students to write a letter of complaint to the identified target audience. The claim and draft of the letter should evolve based on idea discoveries during the writing process. The letter will employ business letter format, include an introduction in which students summarize the problem, a body in which they lay out the details and effects of the problem, provide factual and anecdotal evidence, and conclude with a proposed solution.

Unit Assessment Task

What problems do you notice or experience in your daily life that need to be addressed by the parties responsible for them? These may be concerns you have about school, neighborhood, community, or even national problems. After brainstorming about and defining a problem, write a letter of complaint to the person or people who are responsible for or who can address/solve this problem. What effects of the problem will you point out to them? Think carefully about the different kinds of evidence you will incorporate into your letter.

Common Core State Standards Addressed

Grade 6 Reading: Informational Texts – RI.6.1, RI.6.2, RI.6.3, RI.6.4, RI.6.6, RI.6.7, RI.6.8, RI.6.10
Grade 6 Writing – W.6.1, W.6.4, W.6.5, W.6.7, W.6.8, W.6.9, W.6.10
Grade 6: Speaking and Listening – SL.6.1, SL.6.1a, SL.6.1b, SL.6.1c, SL.6.2, SL.6.3, SL.6.6
Grade 6: Language – L.6.1, L.6.2, L.6.3, L.6.4a, L.6.4d, L.6.6


Write a letter of complaint defining a problem, building an argument, and suggesting solutions.
By generating: a viable problem of scope beyond an individual concern.
By reading: model complaint letters and multi-media resources that present an argument, logical evidence, and possible solutions.
By drafting: body paragraphs to better define the problem and its effects, as well as the audience and possible solutions.
By gathering: anecdotal and factual evidence.
By revising and editing: for viable problem, logical evidence, possible solutions, and proper formatting.

Key Concepts

  • Problem vs. Issue

  • Debatable Claim

  • Topic Viability

  • Factual and Anecdotal Evidence

  • Research

  • Reading Annotation/ Note-taking

  • Revision

  • Meta-cognition (Reflection)

Essential Questions

  • When does it make sense to lodge a complaint?

  • What details of the problem and evidence to support its seriousness must you provide the reader?

  • How do you draft and revise a complaint letter so the intended audience is persuaded to address the problem?

Enduring Understandings

  • Discovering the best topic, argument, and structure for a writing task requires exploration and experimentation (brainstorming, discussion, drafting).

  • Issues are broad topics, while problems are specific troubles or difficulties that can be solved.

  • Problem statements define the cause and effect relationship inherent in a problem.

  • Debatable claims must be supported with evidence to be persuasive.

  • Research is a process of narrowing a search, selecting credible and relevant sources, and sifting through information to find the best evidence.

  • The tone of a writing piece should be influenced by the intended audience.

  • Engaging in all steps of the writing process increases the clarity and complexity of a text.

Intellectual Processes

  • Distinguishing fact and opinion

  • Identifying and using writing conventions of a mode

  • Generalizing an issue from a problem

  • Differentiating between an individual problem and a problem of scale

  • Determining topic viability

  • Determining and writing to a target audience

  • Identifying and using evidence
  • Revising a draft to improve argument and coherence


  • Everything’s an Argument by Lunsford and Ruszkiewicz

  • They Say, I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein

  • Teaching Argument Writing, Grades 6-12: Supporting Claims with Relevant Evidence and Clear Reasoning by George Hillocks, Jr.

  • Active Literacy Across the Curriculum by Heidi Hayes Jacobs

  • Internet Literacy Grades 6-8 by Heather Wolpert-Gawron

  • - news website for kids

  • - effective brainstorming techniques

  • – a free, private online journal tool that allows students to share their work with their teacher or other readers. Permitted readers can comment on posts and the writer can respond.

  • - an online classroom discussion forum with a Facebook-like interface. Secure and no student email address required. Teachers can set up class discussion pages that only allow members of that class to join and participate.

Sixth Grade Argument Writing Unit Terminology

  • In life- conflicts engaged in using language.

  • In writing - opinions that can be backed up with evidence.

Fact – Information that is certain and can be proven.

Debatable Claim – an opinion that is a matter of personal experience and values that must be backed up with evidence to be credible. Others can disagree with this claim.

Evidence- details, facts, and reasons that support a debatable claim.
Anecdotal Evidence- evidence based on personal observation and experience, often in the form of a brief story. Can come from the writer, friends, family, and acquaintances.
Factual Evidence- data, confirmed facts, and research performed by experts. Found by the writer performing research.
Problem- any question or matter involving doubt, uncertainty, or difficulty; a question proposed for solution or discussion.
Problem Statement – a clear and concise statement of a problem that defines the causes and effects.
Problem of Scale- a problem that affects multiple people and even large groups.
Issue- a point, matter, or dispute, the decision of which is of special or public importance: political issues.
Annotation- indicating key parts of the text by writing notes in the margin that summarize, question, and expand the author’s point.
Viable- practical, feasible, usable, adaptable; able to live and grow.

Viable Writing Topic- one that the writer:

  • can make an argument for

  • has enough to say to engage the reader

  • thinks the reader will care about

  • can find enough evidence to support a claim regarding

  • knows will fulfill the expectations of the rubric

Idea Generation (brainstorming) – a first stage process where the writer produces a list of ideas, topics, or arguments without crossing any possibilities off the list. The goal is to create a “storm” of creative energy to open up thinking about the writing task and access ideas the writer might not have realized she had. For resources on brainstorming techniques visit:

Relevant (in reference to research sources) – appropriate, significant, and important to the matter at hand.

Complaint Letter Rubric






The writer:

  • Begins with a compelling introduction that provides thorough background knowledge to understand the problem.

  • Presents the cause(s) and effect(s) of the problem in a well-worded problem statement, then explains the connections between multiple causes and effects.

  • Provides carefully selected details to fully illustrate the problem.

  • Includes well-selected evidence to show the far-reaching effects of the problem and also points to related issues.

  • Suggests an innovative solution logical for the evidence presented.

The writer:

  • Introduces the problem by providing background knowledge.

  • Presents the cause(s) and effect(s) of the problem in a clearly worded problem statement.

  • Provides most of the relevant details that illustrate the problem.

  • Includes enough evidence to show the long-term effects of the problem or to point to related issues.

  • Suggests a solution for the problem.

The writer:

  • Introduces the problem by providing little background knowledge.
  • The problem statement is incomplete because it presents the problem and either its causes or effects but not both; or presents both cause and effect but does not make clear the connection between them.

  • Does not provide enough relevant details to fully illustrate the problem; key points are missing.

  • Evidence of the problem’s long-term effects and/or related issues is either missing or incomplete.

  • Suggested solution is either missing or illogical.


  • The chosen structure consistently reveals the writer’s line of reasoning both in the presentation of the problem and its effects and long-term outcomes and related issues.

  • Transitions also make clear the line of reasoning and create a logical flow between sentences and paragraphs.

  • The chosen structure usually logically reveals the cause, effect, and long-term outcomes of the problem, as well as related issues.

  • Only occasionally misplaced sentences or ideas.

  • The chosen structure does not make clear the cause and effect of the problem or its long-term outcomes and related issues.

  • The arrangement of paragraphs and sentences often lacks logic.

Style, Mechanics, and Format

  • Voice is persuasive, authoritative and consistently appropriate for the intended audience.

  • The word choice is interesting, reflects the intended audience, and is specific to the chosen topic.

  • The essay contains no errors in punctuation.

  • Proper business letter format is used:

    • Sender and recipient’s address in the proper place.

    • Date included.

    • Salutation, closing and CC list included.

  • Voice is appropriately persuasive and formal for the intended audience.

  • The word choice usually reflects the intended audience and is specific to the chosen topic.

  • Sentences are properly punctuated in most cases.

  • Proper business letter format is used:

    • Sender and recipient’s address in the proper place.

    • Date included.

    • Salutation, closing and CC list included.

  • Voice is not appropriate for the intended audience; or shifts from informal to formal throughout the essay.

  • The word choice is simplistic and/or general and is not specific to the topic or intended audience.

  • Letter contains numerous punctuation errors that affect meaning and fluidity.

  • Proper business letter format is inconsistently or not used:

    • Sender and recipient’s address is missing or misplaced.

    • Date not included or misplaced.

    • Salutation, closing or CC list missing.

Process Checklist

The writer:

  • Generated ideas to discover multiple topics and selected the most viable.

  • Drafted to explore and revise his/her topic choice.

  • Revised his/her draft to create a better organized and clearer essay.

  • Edited for stronger word choice, simpler sentences, and an error-free essay.

  • Reflected to understand and learn from the writing process.

Session 1

Arguments Are Everywhere

Essential Questions:

  • What is an argument?

  • What is the difference between fact and opinion?


Everything’s an Argument by Lunsford and a possible resource to ground you in the language and concepts of argument as you shape your students’ thinking about what it means to make a claim and back it up. Chapter one defines different types of arguments, explaining how those arguments get made and giving examples, while chapter sixteen discusses different forms of evidence and the rhetorical situations for which that evidence is appropriate.

Teaching Point

Content: In writing, arguments are opinions that can be backed up with evidence. While we often associate the word “argument” with winning a conflict, arguments can do much more than just win. They can also persuade, inform, convince, and assist in decision making, all of which is achieved by having strong evidence.


  • Define the term “argument.”

  • Understand the term “debatable claim.”


  • Discuss and explore argument terminology and supporting examples.

  • Compare facts and opinions.

Active Engagement

Defining Argument: the Word and the Concept

  • What words do you think of when you hear the word “argument?”

    • Put a list of responses on the board.
    • Reinforce what will probably become apparent from this list—arguments in every day life are conflicts that are engaged in using language (as opposed to violence or visual means).

  • In what situations do you have arguments and what are the results?

    • The focus here should be on the outcomes, noting that arguments can result in change—or stand offs.

    • Students may very likely say that arguments result in the ends of friendships or losing privileges. Point out that these losses are also a form of change.

Defining in Writing

Have students write their own definition for the term “argument” in their Writer’s Notebook. Next, have them share these definitions with their neighbor and revise if they choose to. Finally, have students share their definitions with the full class. Come to some agreement as a group about what key ideas and words one’s definition of argument should contain (conflict, language/words).

Review the teaching point.

In writing, arguments are opinions that can be backed up with evidence. While we often associate the word “argument” with winning a conflict, arguments can do much more than just win. They can also persuade, inform, convince, and assist in decision-making.


If necessary, review the meanings of and differences between the words in bold above. Students can add these to their Writer’s Notebooks as well. It’s important students begin to have an awareness of the different types of arguments they can formulate.

Consider keeping a running list on the wall of the classroom with definitions of argument and writing terminology (claim, evidence, argument), as well as high-frequency writing verbs like persuade, inform, define, evaluate, to ensure students understand what’s being asked of them during thinking and writing tasks.
Claims = Opinions That Can Be Supported

  1. Put the list below (or one like it) in two columns on the board.

  2. Have students compare the item on the left (fact) versus the item on the right (opinion)

  3. Ask students to note the differences between column A and column B, helping them to see that facts are usually certain while opinions are debatable—a matter of personal experience and values.



The Detroit Pistons are a basketball team.

The Pistons are the coolest team in the NBA.

Michigan is shaped like a mitten.

Michigan is the best state to live if you like ice fishing and snowball fights.

Jennifer Granholm is the former Governor of Michigan.

Women should not serve as state governors.

In 2010, Michigan produced 140 million pounds of cherries.

People should eat more cherries because they’re delicious.

Independent Practice

Personal Fact/Opinion Lists

On their own or in pairs or trios, have students create their own two-column table in their Writer’s Notebooks in which they make a list of facts and related opinions. Suggestions for topics they can focus their lists on:

  • Sports teams

  • School events

  • Television shows and movies

  • Music they enjoy


Sharing and Comparing Lists

Have students share their facts and related opinions with the class to generate a larger list on the board. Talk about why each item constitutes a fact or opinion—particularly for items that might fall into a gray area. Ask students their feelings about a particular opinion on the board to illustrate the opposing opinions in the classroom, further reinforcing the concept of debatable claim.


  • Facts are certain.

  • Opinions are debatable claims that others can disagree with.

Introduce (preview for tomorrow):

  • For arguments to be strong, debatable claims must be supported with evidence.


Collect students’ lists of facts and related opinions. Check to see that students’ opinions are related to the corresponding fact and that they are making a clear and correct distinction between fact and opinion.

Session 2

Part 2: Arguments Are Everywhere

Essential Questions:

  • What is the claim a particular argument makes?

  • What is evidence?

  • How does evidence support a claim?


For this lesson, review these bumper stickers and the arguments embedded in them:

  • Stop throwing stuff away. There is no “away.”,502477940

  • Support the Troops – End the War

  • If You Think Education is Expensive, Try Ignorance,126947835
Alternatively, you can select other bumper stickers that you believe will appeal most to your students. The key idea here is to present your students with claims they might see on a daily basis and to apply the language of argument to these claims.
Next, view these Doritos commercials on YouTube:
Doritos Pug Attack Ad
Doritos Beware of Slappy Ad
Consider the questions on the Advertising: Arguments That Convince and Entertain handout as you do.
Alternatively, you can select two advertisements for the same product either in print or on YouTube that will appeal to your students. Ideally, one ad will be more effective in convincing the viewer while the other is more entertaining. The purpose of selecting ads that sell the same product using different means is to present the idea that just because an ad is entertaining doesn’t necessarily mean it makes a strong argument about the product and why the target audience should buy it.

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