Margin Notes

Opinionated Students

Jan
30

We would like to share an idea we have used with a teacher in grade 8 to get the students thinking about writing persuasively.

Our goal is for the students to be able to choose a topic they feel passionate about so they can write with an opinion, see both sides of an argument, to have a purpose for their writing, and to identify the audience they are writing for. In the past, we felt like we had taught this kind of writing like a formula and it ended up being painful for both the students and the teacher. The students had little real interest in their topic and we were bored of teaching it as it always seemed to drag on forever. The writing it produced was generally appropriate against our writing standards but if we were really honest, it just ended up being a compliance writing piece and not truly authentic for the majority of students.

We looked at two main books for inspiration, Kelly Gallagher’s “Write Like This” and Linda Rief’s “Read Write Teach”. After reading their work, we realized in the past we hadn’t spent enough time building students’ capacity in being able to have an opinion and back it up with evidence. This had resulted in dry topics like, “Why cats are better than dogs”, “Why we shouldn’t have a dress code”, and “Why the Montreal Canadiens are the best hockey team”.

We decided to spend more time on the prep work to get them thinking, talking, and writing while building their background knowledge so that hopefully when it is time to choose what they are going to write about, they will be ready. We are also hoping to create some urgency and energy around the writing piece so it doesn’t drag on for weeks once they start it.

We started with a simple and fun game of “Would You Rather” to get them to practice having an opinion and be able to say why. We read the questions aloud, the students turned and talked, then we came back together as a group and shared a few. While the students were turning and talking, we listened in and facilitated where necessary. The two big things we noticed-some students still wanted to say, ” I don’t know” and we had to do a couple of whole class reminders to state their why. We really wanted to focus on these two skills as they are essential and easily transferable to this kind of writing.

Here are some sample questions we got off the internet: would you rather…be covered in scales or fur? Be able to fly or talk to animals? Find a suitcase with $5 000 000 in it or true love? Give up bathing or the internet for one month?

With about ten minutes left, we had them choose one or two questions to write about in their Writers Notebook which was easier for them to do after they had practiced first by talking and listening to their classmates. We noticed this was an essential step that we had often skipped or glossed over and we were happy to rectify the situation!

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