During the month of March, many of us undertook the Slice of Life Story Writing Challenge. We wrote every. single. day. For a month. And not just any old month, we did it in March, a month rife with transitions, expectations, and thirty-one days.
If you wrote every day in March, you know what I mean when I say it’s a learning experience unlike any other. We learn to find time in our schedules we didn’t know we had. We learn to look deep into our daily experiences to extract meaning we wouldn’t have otherwise known was there. We learn the value of being part of a community of writers. Perhaps most important of all, we learn about ourselves.
This month, completely unplanned, I used a letter format each day. On my personal blog, I wrote letters to my sons, my husband, my parents, my siblings. I wrote to my hairdresser, my son’s music teacher, and to the construction workers outside my window.
I didn’t pause to reflect much on my process until Clare Landrigan of Teachers for Teachers wrote about letter writing on her blog.
In her post, Clare makes wonderful points about letters as a powerful genre for persuasive writing. She writes: “Writing a letter helps our young students construct a deep understanding of audience. When you have a specific person in mind, your writing becomes more specific. It is easier to teach crafts like word choice, mini-stories and talking to your audience. Letters allow you to picture the exact person you are writing to so your voice is clear and convincing.”
After my experience writing letters for a month straight, I couldn’t agree more. I found the letter writing format to be both constraining and liberating, in the best ways possible. Letter writing allowed me to explore topics in depth while maintaining laser focus on my audience.
After Clare’s post, I started thinking a lot more about persuasive writing. One reason my writing felt so powerful was that I was able to choose the format I’d use to communicate to my readers. Had I been asked to write letters, I might have balked at the prospect. Being told I had to write essays or reviews rather than letters likely would have taken the wind out of my sails.
So, what about more persuasive writing in which students can choose the format they use? Certainly, students need some focused instruction in different genres of persuasive writing if they haven’t had it already. That might come at the start of the unit, with an in-depth look at great persuasive writing mentor texts. Here’s a quick look at how such a unit might go:
A Unit Plan for Independent Persuasive Writing Projects
Part One: Studying Persuasive Writing in the World
- Studying persuasive letters
- Studying reviews (such as for movies and restaurants)
- Studying book reviews
- Studying persuasive speeches
- Studying persuasive essays
- Naming qualities that all good persuasive writing examples share
During this part of the unit, when each day is spent studying a different kind of persuasive writing, students could write about times they might imagine using this form of writing, and could try mini-versions of each form in their notebooks. Teachers could guide students to collect characteristics of each genre on charts, and then could create a culminating chart with the class listing general qualities of persuasive writing.
Part Two: Finding Opinions
- Studying close relationships to find opinions
- Studying every day occurrences to find opinions
- Studying books and other reading to find opinions
- Studying the larger world to find opinions
During this part of the unit, students could observe and write using the writing territories above for inspiration. They could list possible opinion statements as they record their observations in their notebooks.
Part Three: Choosing the Best Format to Share Opinions
- Choosing a format and trying a draft
- Trying a different format
- Reflecting on the best approach
- Drafting and revising
- Fixing up writing to share
- Presenting opinions to the world
During this part of the unit, students could try a few different persuasive writing formats on for size before landing on the one that feels the best conduit for the message. Trying on few different ways to share their opinion will prove a powerful way to test that their message is clear and that they have chosen the right audience. Of course, after revising their writing and fixing it up their writing so it’s ready to share, a natural way to celebrate this unit is to invite students to make a plan to share their writing.
We’d love to hear some of the ways you teach persuasive writing in your classroom.
Anna is a staff developer, literacy coach, and writer, based in New York City. She taught internationally in places such as Sydney, Australia; San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and Auckland, New Zealand in addition to New York before becoming a staff developer for the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University (TCRWP). She has been an adjunct instructor in the Literacy Specialist Program at Teachers College, and teaches at TCRWP where she helps participants bring strong literacy instruction into their classrooms. Anna recently co-wrote Bringing History to Life with Lucy Calkins, part of the 2013 series Units of Study in Opinion, Information, and Narrative Writing (Heinemann). She has been a researcher for Lucy Calkins, contributing especially to Pathways to the Common Core (Heinemann, 2012) and Navigating Nonfiction (Heinemann, 2010).