Digital Scaffolds for Reading and Writing Argumentative Texts

Presenter: Julie Coiro, University of Rhode Island


It is clear that today’s secondary students have difficulty writing argumentative essays. To make matters more difficult, on the Internet, answers to open-ended problems are rarely found from a single source. Students encounter diverse sources with different purposes and quality of information. To effectively integrate and reconcile competing points of views while making sense of controversial issues, learners require skills in organizing, evaluating, comparing and contrasting information drawn from multiple sources. Unfortunately, recent research has shown that many students engage with online sources in a superficial and uncritical manner and fail to see the connections within and across different types of sources.

The purpose of this project is to help understand how a digital online inquiry tool can support high school students’ ability to locate, evaluate, and integrate information as they explore a controversial issue on the Internet. The digital tool we have developed enables readers to identify and link arguments for and against an issue in ways that form a visual representation of an argument chain. These digital scaffolds help students locate and evaluate claims provided by the author while integrating multiple online sources into a cohesive, source-based essay. This think-aloud video explains how to use the tool.

Recently, we have piloted the use of this tool in both Finland and the United States (Rhode Island & Massachusetts) - with funding from the Elva Knight Research Award, sponsored by the International Literacy Association.

Open Ended Tasks
Scaffolded Tasks
  • Comic books promote literacy skills.
  • In 20 years, printed books will disappear.
  • Social media narrows the ability of people to express themselves in writing.

Generalized menu of possible perspectives
  • e.g. cultural, ethical, financial, educational, social


1. How do you define argumentation?
2. Which parts of reading and writing argumentative texts are likely to challenge your students most? (e.g., questioning, locating, evaluating, synthesizing, communicating)
3. What are some examples of curriculum-based scenarios that you might use to engage and support students in reading and writing argumentative texts?
4. How might this tool support the reading and writing of argumentative texts?