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The Claim-Evidence-Reasoning method (CER) is an analytical technique that helps students develop their critical thinking and writing skills.

Although CER has gained some resurgence in recent years due to its effectiveness in nourishing the reasoning abilities of young learners, it is an old method with deep connections.

How old? According to some sources, as old as the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, when it was first called the “Dialectic Method.” Like CER, this form of teaching involved discussion, scrutiny, and analysis. It allows students to examine a question, propose an answer to it, find evidence that supports it, and finally give reasons for how this evidence came about through experimentation or observation.

For science teachers – and educators in any academic field – using this simple technique enhances a student’s ability to “connect the dots” between formulating a solution and explaining how that solution came about. In other words, if you’ve ever had a student say, “I don’t know how I did this; it just happened,” after creating or discovering something, then CER will help them understand and explain how they accomplished it.

Although it has been developed for science classrooms, the claim-evidence-reasoning practice can be applied to any general subject with few alterations. As a teacher, regardless of your respective field, it can be quite baffling and frustrating to see a student struggle to express their thought processes.

These claim-evidence-reasoning examples will, hopefully, provide a remedy to that dilemma. A quick and easy guide to Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (CER):

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So how exactly does CER work?

It all begins with a question from the teacher, which – in a laboratory setting – is usually based on an experiment or a phenomenon being studied. The student’s answer will then consist of three stages: a claim, the evidence for that claim, and the reasoning behind the supporting evidence.

Let’s break it down into its component sections:

CLAIM

During this section, the student makes a statement that answers the teacher’s question. It’s vital to remember that during the claim stage of CER, there should be no explanation or reasoning included. The student must provide an answer as it is without explaining why or how that particular solution was derived.

EVIDENCE

After stating the claim, the student presents evidence supporting the answer. Just like the claim section, this sequence should only involve quantitative or qualitative data related to the subject matter being examined. Once the evidence has been presented in its entirety, the third phase begins.

REASONING

The reasoning phase involves two very essential elements:

  1. Why the student thinks the evidence supports the claim, and
  2. How, exactly, the student discovered the solution using the data provided?

This section often involves the underlying concepts that produced the evidence or data. These theories are often scientific in an experimental environment such as a chemistry lab. Nonetheless, despite the CER method’s initial use as a science and mathematics tool, it can also be used in other academic subjects.

What are some claim-evidence-reasoning examples?

Using the scientific method, let’s take a sample scenario:

  • The teacher asks: is air considered matter?
  • The students answer: “Yes, the air is matter (claim). Using an inflatable balloon as a vessel, we found that the weight of the balloon increased each time air was pumped into it (evidence). This shows that air has weight, which is one of the main properties of matter (reasoning).”

Or how about a different approach? Let’s apply a claim-evidence-reasoning example to Shakespeare:

  • The teacher asks: is Romeo, the protagonist of “Romeo and Juliet?”
  • The students then answer: “Yes, he is the protagonist. Because of his tragic attraction to Juliet, Romeo embarks on a series of actions that widen the gulf between the two feuding clans (evidence). Without his acts pushing the play’s plot forward, there can be no story, making him the main character (reasoning).”

How else can CER be implemented?

Claim-evidence-reasoning practice nourishes the argumentative reasoning skills of young students. It opens up avenues of dialogue between the instructor and the learner, like the Socratic method of dialectics. A question is asked, an answer is given, evidence is presented, and then analyzed thoroughly.

This process can be applied to subjects that require argument and debate. History, for example, perhaps even language classes such as English, French, or Spanish. Any subject that requires conceptual and theoretical analysis can benefit from the CER method, not just science-based ones.

Using claim-evidence-reasoning examples can result in numerous opportunities and benefits for students. Creating reasonable and evidence-based explanations helps children develop a stronger understanding of any subject matter. It stimulates curiosity, nourishing the innate drive to explain how the world around us works.

According to a 2008 study by Katherine Mcneill of Boston College, students need to become scientifically literate since it allows them to evaluate claims with a critical eye. The CER method empowers them to make informed decisions in every aspect of their personal lives.

How can educators encourage students to use claim-evidence-reasoning practices?

Teachers in every grade level are essential for supporting students in the CER process. They must guide their class in making reasonable explanations when discussing this method. Here are a few tips and guidelines on how to use claim-evidence-reasoning in your classroom:

1. Make the CER’s context clear and explicit.

Not every student knows how to create critical arguments. They usually can understand the concept of “claim” but have difficulty grasping how to collate evidence and justify it with reasoning. The teacher must guide every step of the claim-evidence-reasoning process to avoid confusion.

2. Give examples and critique explanations.

The instructor has to give samples of well-constructed CER practices before allowing students to craft their explanations. Students will also appreciate constructive criticism when they bring forward the claim-evidence-reasoning examples they have created.

3. Provide feedback and suggestions for improvement to students.

Once the exercise is complete, the teacher must then point out the weaknesses and strengths of the students’ respective analyses, especially when examining CER’s evidence and reasoning sequence. This is because these two sections are the essential parts of the entire process. Proof and argumentation are the pillars of the claim-evidence-reasoning practice. Without them, the whole method falls apart.

Why not implement the CER method in your instruction?

This simple yet effective process has been used before by great thinkers like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle when examining the world around them and explaining natural phenomena and philosophical thought.

At the heart of the claim-evidence-reasoning practice is the rich curiosity of the human mind, something which the great Hellenic thinkers valued highly.

Why not expose your students to this ancient tradition of argumentative thinking – there is, after all, no greater joy than seeing a child’s eyes light up when they discover something new and unique.