No True English Teacher Would Ask This Sort of Question
October 5, 2016 11:14 PM   Subscribe

I've recently discovered that I'm supposed to be teaching logical fallacies and argumentation to a couple classes of second year high school returnee students. I'm looking for solid ideas or examples for use in teaching students how to recognize and avoid using fallacies. However, there've been some snags.

I've seen the site, and I'm a big fan of their poster and interactive site. However, the school I'm teaching at is very much in the dark ages, with no internet, no video in the classrooms, so youtube videos are out, unfortunately.

The next hiccup is that almost every site I've read through with discussions about logical fallacies is essentially a collection of people claiming that either Clinton, Obama, or Trump are terrible people because of whatever logical fallacy was being discussed. I would, if possible, like to avoid subjecting a bunch of 16 year old Japanese students to that sort of rancor.

So, the basic need: I need to introduce them to logical fallacies in support of writing persuasive essays. I won't be able to show video, or access the internet in class. I would like to avoid, essentially, recent (say, from 2004 to present) American politics. I'm looking for examples, lesson plans, textbooks, worksheets, anything that would help me put together a four to five lesson chunk to introduce the students to logic and fallacies.
posted by Ghidorah to Education (15 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
This is probably more not-recent than you need, but a hundred-plus years ago in the English-speaking world I think what you're trying to teach would have fallen under "rhetoric".

Maybe some of the more atavistic homeschooling factions would have the specific kind of materials you're looking for? They're always going on about the Trivium and Quadrivium and all that.
posted by XMLicious at 11:44 PM on October 5, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Online Writing Lab at Purdue University is a font of resources for all kinds of composition/rhetoric stuff. It's online but materials are printable as well. They have a section on fallacies.

You're a teacher so you probably know this already, but if you search for "printables" you'll get things designed for classroom use, and I'm seeing a lot of stuff that isn't current events or politics.

OWL has materials that specifically talk about using logic in argumentation, as well.
posted by not that girl at 11:49 PM on October 5, 2016 [5 favorites]

Jamie Whyte's Bad Thoughts: A Guide to Clear Thinking covers all sorts of stuff like this.
posted by ZipRibbons at 1:00 AM on October 6, 2016

Straight and Crooked Thinking used to be recommended; a bit old now and maybe not quite right for your class, but worth a look?
posted by Segundus at 1:55 AM on October 6, 2016

What about something like this?

The Fallacy Detective
posted by nkknkk at 4:29 AM on October 6, 2016

An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments is online, but is also available in book format.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:40 AM on October 6, 2016

I would look at some teachers' resources online (for yourself, not for the students to visit) under the subject of "rhetoric and composition" or "rhet-comp". Do you have a text that has these in them already? It would seem to be that if this is part of the curriculum, then it would already be in the text being used. Or perhaps you would already have these resources from your own teacher training and formal education and you don't even realize it.

(Don't be too hard on yourself. My wife's full time job is to teach logical fallacies and arguments to college kids who barely squeaked out of high school, and even she struggles with it. And she's been doing it for 10 years. And her PhD is in rhet-comp. This is a difficult thing to help students "get" because so much of the kids' social media lives these days revolve around logical fallacies themselves! So, my wife can't just reuse resources from year to year because what worked five years ago isn't working now, etc.)
posted by TinWhistle at 6:27 AM on October 6, 2016

The You Are Not So Smart podcast has a bunch of episodes related to fallacies of thinking that students might find engaging.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 9:01 AM on October 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

There's a solid article-length summary of fallacies and logical argumentation at the Skeptic's Guide to the Universe site.
posted by Flexagon at 9:27 AM on October 6, 2016

I keep seeing these visuals making the rounds.
posted by deludingmyself at 12:40 PM on October 6, 2016

Your kids might also find it fun to play the game Propaganda (there are explanations and sample questions linked from that page).
posted by praemunire at 4:17 PM on October 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Thanks for all the helpful answers, I'm looking through this stuff, and there's definitely a lot to take in. One follow up question I have, though: Is there any universal list of terms? It seems there are a bunch of different names for each fallacy, and if I'm going to be teaching these (with an eye towards homework and testing which would involve identification), I'd like to be giving the students the most widely used terminology possible.

I mean, no True Mefite would ask a question without posting an in-thread follow up question
posted by Ghidorah at 4:43 PM on October 6, 2016

Teaching persuasive writing to 15-year-olds who aren't great at the nuances of the English language? That's been my job for the last decade or so. I don't have specific names for these fallacies, but here are some common pitfalls and fallacies and how I deal with them.

1) Choosing a line of argument
15-year-olds aren't even sure how to decide what to have for lunch, much less decide on a line of argument to pursue. This leads to 2).

2) Choosing criteria
In order to have a solid endpoint to work towards, you need to know explicitly what your criteria are for analysis. These need to be laid out in your essay to define its scope and work as a kind of checklist for you to weigh your options against. You'd think this was obvious, but I can't tell you how many times students attempt writing without defining the scope and end up with a complete jumble.

3) Knowing the options and the issue at hand
I don't know about your students, but some of mine have trouble differentiating between the issue and the various factors/impacts on/resulting from the issue. It's worth helping them break down the question into its components to make it clear to them.

4) Quantitative vs qualitative analysis
Students have a tendency to think "I've written 1 point for A and 2 points against A, overall there are more points against than for A, therefore A is bad". There's no deeper thinking beyond that. I usually point out to them, dryly, that if they make life choices that way, they're gonna end up in a bad place. Example: a girl has a boyfriend who has many positive points: buys her flowers, remembers her birthday, pays for dinner. But he has one negative: he lies to her about having another girlfriend on the side. Would they say overall that he's a keeper?

That's all I have off the top of my head. I hope it's along the lines of what you were asking for, but if not, I hope it at least sparked some ideas.
posted by satoshi at 5:02 PM on October 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I believe that this concept is addressed in AP English Language and Composition courses (at least indirectly). Maybe (searching for) resources for this exam are a good starting point?
posted by oceano at 11:45 AM on October 7, 2016

The witch trial scene from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail".

Sir Bedevere: There are ways of telling whether she is a witch.
Peasant 1: Are there? Oh well, tell us.
Sir Bedevere: Tell me. What do you do with witches?
Peasant 1: Burn them.
Sir Bedevere: And what do you burn, apart from witches?
Peasant 1: More witches.
Peasant 2: Wood.
Sir Bedevere: Good. Now, why do witches burn?
Peasant 3: ...because they're made of... wood?
Sir Bedevere: Good. So how do you tell whether she is made of wood?
Peasant 1: Build a bridge out of her.
Sir Bedevere: But can you not also build bridges out of stone?
Peasant 1: Oh yeah.
Sir Bedevere: Does wood sink in water?
Peasant 1: No, no, it floats!... It floats! Throw her into the pond!
Sir Bedevere: No, no. What else floats in water?
Peasant 1: Bread.
Peasant 2: Apples.
Peasant 3: Very small rocks.
Peasant 1: Cider.
Peasant 2: Gravy.
Peasant 3: Cherries.
Peasant 1: Mud.
Peasant 2: Churches.
Peasant 3: Lead! Lead!
King Arthur: A Duck.
Sir Bedevere: ...Exactly. So, logically...
Peasant 1: If she weighed the same as a duck... she's made of wood.
Sir Bedevere: And therefore...
Peasant 2: ...A witch!
posted by trinity8-director at 1:46 PM on October 7, 2016

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