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.
I'd love to connect with you on Twitter and Pinterest!
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.
smit, 2015 / Shutterstock.com
We all want students to think critically about the subjects we teach, but how can we make it happen? What does deeper thinking look like in English language arts, science, social studies, and math?
One way to see students' thinking is to have them create graphic organizers. Each graphic organizer that follows requires your students to use different critical thinking skills (in parentheses). Read about each organizer and the thinking it creates, and then click to see minilesson activities you can present to your students to get them thinking deeply.
Time Lines (Sequencing)
When your students create time lines, they sort details in chronological order. Of course, time lines work well for historical events, like this time line of the life of Madame Curie. But they also work well for helping students understand the steps in a process or the sequence of events in a short story or novel.
Have students write the topic at the top and then draw a vertical line. On the left of the line, they write dates, numbers (1, 2, 3, 4 . . .), or even words like "First," "Next," and "Then." On the right of the line, students write events in time order. The minilesson activity has a document download that you can use as well.
View "Sequencing with a Timeline" Minilesson
Pro-Con Charts (Evaluation)
If you want students to evaluate the good and bad aspects of a topic, get them to create a pro-con chart. This chart explores the pros and cons of the Westward Expansion in U.S. history. You can also have students analyze a character from a novel or think deeply about an issue for an argument essay.
Have students write the topic at the top of a piece of paper and draw a large T shape under it. Afterward, they should label the left column "Pro" and use it for positives and label the right column "Con" and use it for negatives. If you would rather hand out a printout or have students work electronically, check out the document download in the minilesson activity.
View "Evaluating with a Pro-Con Chart" Minilesson
Cause-Effect Charts (Causation)
When students think about causes and effects, they tend to think in a very linear fashion: The bat hits the ball and sends it over the fence. But many topics have much more complex webs of cause and effect. A chart like this one, which analyzes the causes and effects of fire, helps students sort out those complexities. Imagine having students analyze the causes and effects of Katniss Everdeen's plight in The Hunger Games.
Have students write their topic in the middle of a page and circle it. Then have them write "Causes" above to the left and "Effects" above to the right. Under these labels, students list causes and effects and connect them to the topic using arrows. Or you can use the digital download available in the minilesson activity.
View "Analyzing with a Cause-Effect Chart" Minilesson
Venn Diagrams (Comparison and Contrast)
A good-old Venn diagram can help your students explore the ways that two topics are similar and the ways they are different. This diagram compares two American presidents who were assassinated. Your students can use the Venn diagram to compare two characters, two methods for doing a division problem, or any other topics with comparisons and contrasts.
Have students draw two overlapping circles (or ovals) and write one topic above each. Then have them list similarities in the overlapping section and differences in the outer parts. Encourage them to keep the differences parallel: When they write a detail in one side, they should write a contrasting detail in the other side. The minilesson activity includes a download of a Venn diagram template.
View "Comparing with a Venn Diagram" Minilesson
Line Diagrams (Classification)
Creating a line diagram can help students analyze the parts of something and how those parts interconnect. This example shows the three branches of the U.S. federal government. Students could use line diagrams to analyze the structure of an organization, the relationships between members in a family, the taxonomy of a species, or even the different types of verbs (active, linking, and passive, with examples of each).
Have students write the topic at the top of the page in a centered box. Then have students break the topic into sub-categories by creating and connecting boxes beneath the first. Students can also have sub-sub-categories and so on. Or you can have students use the line diagram download in the minilesson activity.
View "Analyzing with a Line Diagram" Minilesson
Planning Sheets (Goal Setting)
Teachers are masters of planning, but we rarely teach students directly how to do it. This planning sheet brings all of the details together in one spot. By walking step by step through the process of planning a project or activity, your students can think deeply about their work. This planning sheet helped a student plan a video project about the U.S. Westward Expansion. You can use this sheet to help students plan research reports, Web sites, community projects, or any other complex student-centered activity.
Download the planning sheet in the minilesson activity and provide it to students either on paper or digitally. Then lead them through the minilesson for filling out the sheet. The sheet not only helps them think about the project in advance, but it also helps you track their progress and make sure they stay on target.
You can use the sheet in your own planning as well, outlining a complex project for your students so that they fully understand your expectations. And once you or your students create a planning sheet, you have the start of a rubric for the project (see below).
View "Creating a Plan" Minilesson
You can create a quick rubric for any project by writing the Goal (what students are doing and why) and creating Objectives (answering the 5 W's and H questions about the project: Who? What? Where? When? Why? and How?). If you or your students have used the planning sheet to prepare for the project, you've already created a goal and objectives. You'll just copy them into the first column of the rubric template.
The first column in the example rubric was created from the goal and objectives outlined in the planning sheet for the Westward Expansion video project. In the second column, a student reflected on how well he had met the goal and objective. In the third column, the student circled whether he Beat, Met, or Didn't meet the goal and objectives. By adding up the weighted score, the student arrived at a percentage score of the project. (Note that simply meeting expectations results in an average score: C. If a student exceeds expectation for the goal and all objectives, he or she will score 120 points, an A+. Or you can convert the 20 points into extra credit on the project—a great incentive to excel.)
Get the rubric sheet download in the minilesson activity, and use the activity to teach your students the vital skill of evaluation.
View "Creating a Rubric to Evaluate Projects" Minilesson