This day marks the end of a unit of study focused on argument reading and writing. ELA class is not the only place that students produce this type of writing. They have also written arguments or persuasive essays in social studies, science and math classes. To determine student progress in this particular type of writing during sixth grade, they are given an extended period of time to move through the entire writing process. They will have two 90-minute blocks to research a topic, determine the pros and cons, draft, revise, edit and submit a final copy of a multi-paragraph essay.
Hopefully, each student will be engaged by one of the two topics that were chosen for this assessment. Background knowledge may help each person decide to write about a topic related to sports or one about pets. I read aloud each prompt and allow the students a few minutes to consider them and make a choice. It is interesting to note that the class is divided half and half between each!
The two articles that accompany the sports prompt are here and here. And the two articles that accompany the pets prompt are here and here.
Our state standards spell it out pretty clearly. My third graders need to be able to write opinion pieces on topics or texts that state an opinion within a framework of an organizational structure that provides reasons that support the opinion and provides a concluding statement. Oh, and they better use transitional words and phrases throughout. These would be the same 8-year-olds who still can't figure out it's not a good idea to put your boots on before your snow pants.
With all this in mind, meeting those standards seemed like a huge mountain to climb when I was planning out my persuasive writing unit a few weeks ago. I have students who still haven't mastered capitalization and punctuation, so I knew I would have to break down the mechanics of writing an opinion statement into a step-by-step process for them. This week I am happy to share with you a few tips along with the graphic organizers I created to help get my students writing opinion pieces that showed me that my students, while not quite there yet, were fully capable of making it to the top of that mountain.
Introduce the Language of Opinion Writing
The very first thing we did during a writing mini-lesson was go over the language of opinion writing and how certain words, like fun and pretty are opinion clues because while they may be true for some people, they are not true for everyone. We also discuss how other words, called transitions, are signals to your reader as to where you are in your writing: the beginning, middle or end.
After the initial vocabulary is introduced, I challenged my third graders to look for examples of these types of words in their everyday reading. Over the next couple of days, students used sticky notes to add opinion or transition words they found to an anchor chart posted on a classroom wall. Next, I took the words and put them into a chart that I copied for students to glue into their writer's notebooks. You can see our chart below. If you would like to print your own copy, just click on the image.
Introduce Easy-to-Read Opinion Pieces
Most of my third graders have read a wide variety of genres by this point in third grade, but when asked if they had ever read the "opinion genre," they answered with a resounding, "No!" I pointed out to them that they actually read opinion articles nearly every week in our Scholastic News magazine. At that point, I let them dive into the archives of old articles online and they were quickly able to find opinion pieces in several of the issues we had read this year. Students also used the debate section of the online issues.
On the board we listed some of the articles students found in Scholastic News that contained opinions:
Many Scholastic news articles are perfect to use because they are short, and for the most part have a structure that is similar to how I want my students to write. The articles often include:
- Both sides of the argument
- Clearly stated opinions
- Reasons for holding that opinion
- Examples to support the reasons
- Conclusions that are restated with enthusiasm
In the image below, you can see below how easy it was for my students to find the opinions, supporting reasons and examples in the "Debate It" feature we read together on whether the U.S. Mint should stop making pennies.
Model, Model, Model!
Once students read the article about pennies, they were ready to form an opinion. After discussing the pros and cons with partners, the class took sides. With students divided into two groups, they took part in a spirited Visible Thinking debate called Tug of War. After hearing many of their classmates voice their reasoning for keeping or retiring the penny, the students were ready to get started putting their thoughts on paper.
At this time, I introduced our OREO graphic writing organizer. Using the name of a popular cookie is a mnemonic device that helps my students remember the structural order their paragraphs need to take: Opinion, Reason, Example, Opinion. In our class, we say our writing is double-stuffed, because two reasons and two examples are expected instead of one.
Because this was our first foray into example writing, we worked through the organizer together.
My students did pretty well with the initial organizer and we used it again to plan out opinion pieces on whether sledding should be banned in city parks.
Once students had planned out two different opinions, they selected one to turn into a full paragraph in their writer's notebooks. The organizers made putting their thoughts into a clear paragraph with supporting reasons and examples very easy for most students.
With each practice we did, my students got stronger and I introduced different organizers to help them and to keep interest high. Giving each student one sandwich cookie to munch on while they worked on these organizers helped keep them excited about the whole process.
After we worked our way through several of the Scholastic News opinion pieces, my third graders also thought of issues pertinent to their own lives and school experiences they wanted to write about, including:
- Should birthday treats and bagel sales be banned at school?
- Should all peanut products be banned?
- Should we be allowed to download our own apps on the iPads the school gave us?
As we continued to practice, different organizers were introduced. Those are shown below. Simply click on each image to download and print your own copy.
The organizer below is my favorite to use once the students are more familiar with the structure of opinion paragraphs. It establishes the structure, but also helps students remember to use opinion-based sentence starters along with transition words.
Below is a simple organizer some of my students can also choose to use.
Other Resources I Have Used
Scholastic offers many different resources for helping your students become better with their opinion writing, or for younger writers, understanding the difference between fact and opinion. A great one to have in your classroom is: 12 Write-On/Wipe-Off Graphic Organizers That Build Early Writing Skills.
Click on the images below to download and print. There are many more sheets like these in Scholastic Teachables.
A couple weeks into our persuasive writing unit and I have already seen a lot of progress from our very first efforts. We may not have mastered this writing yet, but we are definitely on our way and that mountain doesn't seem quite so high anymore. I hope you find a few of these tips and my graphic organizers helpful! I'd love to hear your tips for elementary writing in the comment section below.
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Teacher Store Resources
I love using the graphic organizers in my Grade 3 Writing Lessons to Meet the Common Core. Other teachers in my building use the resources for their grade level as well. They make them for grades 1-6.