Supporting Civically Engaged Argument Writing with Primary Sources

Webinar Series

Teachers in our Philadelphia Writing Project network are engaging in inquiries and creating curriculum resources to support civically engaged argument writing in K-12 classrooms. This work is supported by a Teaching with Primary Sources grant from the Library of Congress.

Our emerging resources draw upon:

  1. primary sources from the Library of Congress;

  2. argument writing approaches from the National Writing Project’s College, Career, and Community Writers Program (Arshan & Park, 2021; Friedrich et al., 2018); and

  3. Gholdy Muhammad’s (2020, 2021) Culturally and Historically Responsive Literacy Framework.

Past Webinars

Connecting Past and Present with Primary Sources and Civically Engaged Argument Writing

February 2022

Using Historical Newspapers to Support Civically Engaged Argument Writing

March 2022

Searching for Digitized Historical Primary Sources About Black Women Leaders in Philadelphia

May 2022

Creating Text Sets to Support Civically Engaged Argument Writing

September 2022

Arguments are all around us.

Students should recognize the many conversations in our communities. Many are already contributing to these ongoing conversations. As teachers, we should cultivate a culture of argument in our classrooms and support students as they civically engage beyond the classroom.

Arguments are not simply pro and con, for and against.

Often, there are multiple perspectives that students should engage with. Recognizing multiple perspectives can help students figure out what others have said in a civic conversation so far, build empathy (Mirra, 2018), and imagine thoughtful ways forward.

Argument writing involves making moves with claims and evidence.

Students should try out moves that other communicators make in an effort to strengthen our own arguments (Graf & Birkenstein, 2021; Harris, 2017). As they try out these moves, students may make them their own.

Our Beliefs About Teaching with Primary Sources

  • Members of communities create and share texts across generations for a range of purposes and audiences. In school, we should explore with students how, why, and when those texts were created and also contribute our own texts to what is an ongoing conversation.

  • Reading and rewriting texts (“the word”) is bound up with “reading the world” (Freire, 1983). In school, we should learn alongside students to critically examine and remake our communities.

  • Digital technologies have opened up opportunities to explore texts from our past that otherwise would have only been available in libraries and archives. In school, we should position students as constructors of knowledge who can learn with these texts as they construct knowledge and engage in inquiries.

  • Collecting, curating, and digitizing the texts available to us was likely shaped by settler colonialism, racism, sexism, and ableism and may not fully represent the range of experiences of members of our communities and their ancestors. In school, we should ensure that students engage with texts created by all of our ancestors (particularly Black, Indigenous, and people of color), texts that show the full range of humanity, including in resistance, joy, and self-determination.

  • Young people are already actively participating in ongoing, intergenerational dialogue through which they remember, reestablish, and reimagine what makes communities just and joyful. In school, we should recognize students' experiences, expertise, and agency outside of school.


Arshan, N. L. & Park, C. J. (2021). Research brief: SRI finds positive effects of the College, Career, and Community Writer’s Program on student achievement. SRI International.

Friedrich, L., Bear, R., & Fox, T. (2018). For the sake of argument: An approach to teaching evidence-based writing. American Educator, 42(1), 18-40.

Freire, P. (1983). The importance of the act of reading. Journal of Education, 165(1), 5-11.

Graff, G., & Birkenstein, C. (2021). They say, I say: The moves that matter in academic writing (5th ed.). W. W. Norton.

Harris, J. (2017). Rewriting: How to do things with texts. University Press of Colorado.

Lytle, S., Portnoy, P., Waff, D., & Buckley, M. (2009). Teacher research in urban Philadelphia: Twenty years working within, against, and beyond the system. Educational Action Research, 17(1): 23-42.

Mirra, N. (2018). Educating for empathy: Literacy learning and civic engagement. Teachers College Press.

Muhammad, G. (2021). 12 questions to ask when designing culturally and historically responsive curriculum. Association for Middle Level Education.

Muhammad, G. (2020). Cultivating genius: An equity framework for culturally and historically responsive literacy. Scholastic.