Writing a Controversial Issue Essay

Using the writing process to analyze a biotechnology issue

Advanced Preparation

You will need to familiarize yourself with the biotechnology issues that students will choose to write their essays. The references cited below are available with the project and will provide ample information about the range of biotechnology issues. If you are teaching this unit for the first time you might use some of the social studies units and materials in this curriculum for the 9-11 grade.

You will also need to familiarize yourself with the process involved in teaching, writing, and evaluating the controversial essay. A copy of a guide for the controversial essay from the Writing Assessment Handbook: High School is included with this lesson.


The controversial issue essay process will give students an opportunity to analyze a biotechnology issue for which there is a range of opinion. Writing about controversial issues will give the student the opportunity to think about a problem; take a position, after thoughtful deliberation; and then to defend their position by constructing well reasoned arguments. By arguing for their views and defending their positions against objections, the writer learns to appeal to an audience both logically and emotionally. When distinguishing between fact and opinion, drawing conclusions, and evaluating evidence, the writer exercises critical thinking skills. By engaging in reasoned argument, the writer discovers his own basic values.

When students write about controversial issues, they learn how to debate social issues and come to understand and respect different points of view. Students see how individuals can be brought into contact with one another and can build bridges to areas of common ground. Students who skillfully and critically address controversial issues in writing will more likely reject prejudice and propaganda and use logic and reason when they face the many issues that confront us as individuals and as members of a society.

Student Objectives

Class Time Needed

This assignment is meant to be used by either social studies or English teachers. A social studies teacher and an English teacher may choose to work together with their students on this writing process, breaking down the steps listed in the Controversial Issues Writing Process: Assignment Guide between the two classes. By working together, the class time needed could be shortened to one week instead of two weeks.



  1. This lesson assumes that students have some prior knowledge of biotechnology issues. If this is not the case, the resources provided by the BEP program and listed below will give students with ample information for most of the topics listed in #4.
  2. Introduce the controversial issues essay by modeling an exemplary controversial issues essay
    1. using Overhead #1 discuss with students the elements of a controversial issues essay.
    2. using the Overhead #2, demonstrate to the class how a student, using the controversial essay format as a model, wrote a respectable essay.
  3. Distribute the Student Handout #1: Student Assignment Guide and follow the procedures.
  4. The following are a list of possible biotechnology controversies:
    1. Reproductive technologies
    2. Organ Donation for Anencephalic Infants
    3. Cloning
    4. Maintaining the bodies of brain-dead pregnant women
    5. Transgenic animals
    6. Transgenic plants
    7. Government regulation and genetic engineering
    8. Patenting genes
    9. Biological weapons
    10. Genetic testing for inherited diseases
    11. Mapping the genome
    12. Genetically redesigning humans
    13. Fetal tissue research
    14. Gene therapy
    15. DNA fingerprinting evidence in court
    16. Genetic engineering and eugenics




"Is Genetic Engineering Beneficial" from Genetic Engineering: Opposing Viewpoints.

"Can Genetic Engineering Improve Health" from Genetic Engineering: Opposing Viewpoints.

"Does Genetic Engineering Improve Agriculture?" from Genetic Engineering: Opposing Viewpoints.

Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park.

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein.