Using Critical Questions to Evaluate Written and Oral Arguments in an Undergraduate General Education Seminar

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Reading and Writing



First page number:


Last page number:



Although the Toulmin model (1958) has dominated argumentation research, it does not provide many tools for evaluating argument quality. Towards that end, we draw on work in philosophy on argument schemes, and critical questions for evaluating those schemes. In our approach, we integrate the teaching of critical questions with argumentation vee diagrams (AVDs) and with oral and written discourse. AVDs are graphic organizers that prompt students to write arguments and counterarguments on different sides of the vee, and at the bottom of the vee, an integrative paragraph supporting a final conclusion. The present study was conducted in three sections of an undergraduate general education seminar. Two sections, comprising the experimental group, used AVDs containing a critical questions box reflecting questions for the arguments from consequence scheme (Walton, 1996). One section used AVDs without the critical question box. Students completed AVDs prior and during class discussions on social issues (e.g., drug legalization). Over time, students in the experimental group included more refutations related to the critical questions compared to the control group. The effect transferred to an in-class essay where no question prompts were provided, but not to a course paper written on whistleblowing. However, students in the experimental condition did include in their papers more explicit mention of moral principles. We explain these effects in relation to argument schema theory, in particular the development and automatization of a weighing schema. The critical questions appeared to provide students with a structure for evaluating arguments and counterarguments.


Argumentation; Persuasive writing; Critical thinking; Graphic organizers


Education | Higher Education



UNLV article access

Search your library