The Significance of the Counterclaim

J. Steele, BHP Score Team
Arizona State University, USA

If you’ve signed up for BHP Score and have received a round of feedback on at least one of the course Investigations, it’s likely you’ve seen some version of the following phrase in the comments for many of your students: “Be sure to include a counterclaim to strengthen your argument.” But what exactly is a counterclaim, and why is it deemed so important in the BHP Writing Rubric?

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Sample BHP Score grader comments.

After your students construct a claim or thesis, encourage them to include a counterclaim to provide an acknowledgment of a possible opposing point of view. Offering a counterclaim and giving enough evidence to disprove that counterclaim strengthens the argument by reassuring the reader that the student is well-informed and able to discern multiple perspectives. The development and refutation of an appropriate counterclaim speaks to a student’s critical thinking and skills of argumentation. Some possible lead-in language for a counterclaim includes:

  1. Some might say ___________, but _____________.
  2. An alternative belief may be ______; however, __________.
  3. Though it is important to note _____, it is also important to understand _______.
  4. A possible counterclaim for this argument could be _______, but ____________.

The counterclaim concept might seem difficult for some students to grasp without comprehension of real-world applications, but one recurring activity within the BHP curriculum can help students understand the importance of this skill. The four debate activities in Units 2, 6, 8, and 9 provide a structure that can be useful for outlining a written argument as well. During the debates, each team is given 4-6 minutes to present their position, 2 minutes (after a few minutes of preparation) to offer a rebuttal, and 1 minute to state a conclusion. In their rebuttals, students must respond to the evidence that the other side has offered and construct an argument about why the evidence is irrelevant or contestable.

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BHP debate activities.

As your students begin new Investigation essays, encourage them to remember the debate process; even though they do not get to hear directly from the opposing side when they write, they can anticipate what the other side might say and include an appropriate response. Examining the BHP Debate Rubric as a class can also be helpful when determining what should be included in a written counterclaim argument. The criteria to achieve the Above Standard rating (or 4) under the Rebuttal and Closing Statement section reads: “Makes an abundance of logical points against the points of the other side; is thorough and logical in the explanation for why their side has the strongest argument.” By bringing the language of the debates into Investigation essay writing, students may find it easier to come up with an effective counterclaim section.

Constructing a persuasive argument, like any writing skill, requires intentional practice to see positive results. As your students become more familiar with counterclaims, you may find that not only will it be reflected positively in their Investigation scores, but in their critical thinking skills in the classroom, as well.

Note: If you find the counterclaim lead-in language helpful, the book They Say/I Say: The Moves That Matter in Academic Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein provides similar tools to assist in breaking down key writing concepts.

About the author: J. Steele sits on the BHP Score team at Arizona State University. You can learn more about the BHP Score team in this blog post.

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