I first heard about CER (claim, evidence, reasoning) when the K-8 school I was working at insisted on it being used in every class for every subject. I’ll admit to being very dubious at first, especially in regards to using such a language-heavy approach for my English language learners, but the more I used it, the more convinced I became. So convinced, in fact, that I still use it over a decade later with my adult language learners.
CER is a great strategy for every subject, whether identifying the author/text’s claim, evidence, and reasoning; or ensuring that one’s own writing/speaking includes all three elements. Like most strategies, for the implementation of CER to have the greatest effect, you need to explicitly teach how to use it and provide plenty of practice opportunities/reminders. Here are some of the ways I teach and use it in my classes:
Posters / Anchor Charts
One of the decorations with a purpose that is a permanent fixture in my classroom is our CER posters. Each letter features the word it stands for in yellow and two questions (one for reading, one for math) in white. I place these approximately 8″x10″ letters in a prominent position and we refer to them often throughout the year. I also print out a single page handout (pictured) for students to keep in their notebooks for easy reference.
You remember my concern about a language-heavy strategy and ELLs? Since I had no choice regarding implementation, I provided my students with a support system. These graphic organizers turned out to be some of the best things I ever used with my students! Once they understood how to use them, and became familiar with the system, their writing improved tremendously.
There are two versions, one for ELA and one for math. Both are simply boxes with titles and guiding questions to help students. The ELA version (pictured) has four sections:
- Topic/Theme: What question are you trying to answer?
- Claim: What is your opinion? What do you think?
- Evidence: What support do you have for your opinion? How do you know this?
- Reasoning: Why do you think this? Why is what you say true?
We also use the ELA graphic organizer to analyze texts we read. The students use it to help them identify and outline/take notes regarding the author’s claim, evidence, and reasoning. It helps them to pick out the main ideas and most relevant supporting details. They can then use their notes to write summary paragraphs, when necessary.
The math version also has four sections, and worked wonders on my students’ approach to word problems! It really helped them think through the word problem itself, and their answer, allowing them to better respond to those wonderful prompts on standardized tests that require them to explain how they solved the problem in words. The sections are:
- Question (This one does not have an extra prompt, students simply copy the part of the problem that has the question in it.)
- Claim: What is your answer? (I also prompt them to show their work–in other words, do the problem in this space.)
- Evidence: How did you do the math? Tell me in words.
- Reasoning: Why did you do the math this way?
We practiced a lot with the graphic organizers–completing them together as a class at first, then in groups, and finally on their own. Before long they were quite proficient at the system and many sketched out their own little version of them on their scratch paper during the math writing portions of standardized tests.
As I mentioned, all teachers of all subjects were required to implement CER in their classes. The science teacher was struggling to help our ELLs understand the scientific method and asked for my help. After spending nearly two months teaching it, and all the vocabulary that goes with it, to my eighth graders, it was time for a summative assessment. Never one to miss an opportunity to combine subjects/objectives, I designed an assessment that would check the students’ understanding of the scientific method, discrimination between types of variables, and also some of our ELA objectives.
We originally did the activity as a whole group so they would be familiar with it, and then they completed it individually. It was a great opportunity to review not only science vocabulary, but also terms such as “credible source” and “research.” The basic premise of the activity was to use CER to identify the claim, evidence, and reasoning of an advertisement (It’s in print: is it true?). The students then used the scientific method to design an experiment to test the validity of that claim.
The CER portion of the worksheet/graphic organizer presented them with questions very similar to those on the graphic organizer we used regularly:
- Claim: What claim does this ad make? What are they saying is true?
- Evidence: What evidence do the advertisers present? How do you know what they say is true?
- Reasoning: What reasoning does the advertisement give? Why do they say they are telling the truth?
Of course most advertisements contain little, if any, evidence or reasoning, and this provided a great opportunity for discussion. The students saw this first hand when we did the activity together, and I reminded them this might be the case when they did it on their own.
The second part of the worksheet/organizer lead them step-by-step through the process of designing an experiment to test the advertisement’s claim. The prompts were as follows:
- Ask a question to guide your investigation.
- Gather information: What sources of information would be credible sources for your research?
- Write a hypothesis.
- Design an experiment: Independent Variable, Dependent Variable, Control Group, Steps to Follow
- Collect data: What data would you collect? How would you collect it?
- The final two steps of the scientific method are what? (List them below)
We had a lot of great discussion while completing the activity as a whole group, and the students said they didn’t even feel like they were taking an assessment when they did it on their own. Their science teacher was thrilled they’d finally mastered the vocabulary (and in time for a standardized test), and they were among an elite group of students in our school who could distinguish between independent and dependent variables with great accuracy. In short, I was very proud of them. (A tiny version of this is in the writing section of English Skillology 3.)
Social Studies Connection
Number 8 on my list of Top 10 Free TPT Downloads of 2021, this activity is perfect for helping students to think critically about the news they hear and read both on and off line. News Discernment Investigation combines CER and CRAAP into one activity that helps students distinguish false from true news. As with all parts of our CER instruction, we worked together to complete the worksheet/organizer as a class before they tried on their own.
This two page worksheet/organizer is also divided into two sections: CER and CRAAP. After selecting a news article (students are prompted to copy and paste a link, or at least put the title and publication information), students identify the following things:
- Claim: What claim does this article make? What are they saying is true?
- Evidence: What evidence does the article present? How do you know what they are saying is true? (I tell students to look for facts.)
- Reasoning: What reasoning does the article give? Why do they say they are telling the truth? (I tell students to look for non-factual logic or supporting details.)
The second section takes their thinking to a deeper level and prompts them to apply CRAAP to the article.
- Currency: When was the information published?
- Relevance: Is the information related to my question and appropriate?
- Authority: Who is the author? Who does the author cite? What are their qualifications?
- Accuracy: Is the source supported by evidence?
- Purpose: Is the source neutral or biased?
Finally, students are prompted to write a brief paragraph answering the question, “Do you believe this article, or do you think it is fake news? Be sure to defend your position with textual evidence.”
I have only used this particular activity with my high intermediate and advanced students, but if you could use it with lower proficiency students if you sourced the news articles from sources that write specifically for ELLs. It is also featured in an English Skillology, this time level four.
My students are always looking for more speaking practice, especially unscripted speaking practice that doesn’t force them to use specific grammatical constructions. Silly Shorts still remains their favorite practice game, but CER: The Board Game (digital version also available) runs a close second. I originally thought this would be a nice supplemental speaking practice game, but I used it multiple times last semester in my advanced writing class to teach a plethora of skills from writing thesis statements to persuasive strategies.
The game itself is a simple zig-zag board that I use frequently. To play, students take a card, read the statement, choose a position, and state their claim, supporting it with evidence and reasoning. If they are able to successfully do so, they roll and move their piece. Sometimes I require them to focus on a specific skill, other times I set a minimum number of seconds they must speak for, other times I simply let them play.
The cards contain over 50 different prompts, and all prompts include “(not)” so students can choose if they are in favor of, or against, the particular statement. Some of the prompts include:
- The legal voting age should (not) be raised to twenty-one.
- Middle and high school students should (not) have to wear school uniforms.
- Sugary drinks and snacks should (not) be allowed in school.
- Internet access should (not) be free for all people.
- All drugs should (not) be legalized.
Some of the prompts are more controversial than others. I always begin my classes with a discussion on respect and it is our agreed upon policy that anyone can hold/express any opinion, provided it is done respectfully. My students have always honored this policy and we enjoy a lot of spirited, but respectful, discussions. Some of the more controversial/discussion-inducing prompts include:
- Capital punishment (the death penalty) should (not) be abolished.
- The use of animals in medical testing should (not) be allowed.
- The United States should (not) require a year of military service for every citizen.
- Scientists should (not) continue to develop artificial intelligence.
- Parents should (not) have access to their teenagers’ electronic devices.
Of course with over 50 prompts included, if you don’t think one is appropriate for your students it’s easy to leave it out. The large number of prompts also allows me to tell students to simply choose another one if they do not understand, or don’t wish to speak about, it for any reason.
One of the things I used this game to reinforce was my students’ understanding of persuasive strategies. I actually added a dice key to the game for this very purpose. When we play the persuasive strategies version, students roll the dice and have to utilize the matching strategy in their response.
- 1=big names
This added a whole new dimension of challenge to the game and really helped to cement students’ understanding of the different strategies.
As I shared at the beginning, I was originally extremally skeptical and reluctant to implement CER in my classes. Today I consider it to be one of the most essential parts of my instruction and would go so far as to say it’s revolutionized my teaching in many ways. If you haven’t tried it yourself yet, I urge you to implement it and see the difference it can make for yourself. Happy teaching, everyone!
There’s no better time to try it than now, all of the resources I described, but one, are free! (The board game is $2.) Here are the links again:
Or, if you want to get everything in one click, you can get all five resources (paper version of board game) in one bundle for $2.