A Peek into Opinion Writing

Visiting my brother in Denver, I listened to my 14 year-old nephew try to convince his mother to let him spend the night at a friend’s house. He had reasons, he had past experiences to support his request, and he had a solid understanding of all her potential arguments against his proposal. She held firm, so he used many strategies, and I was reminded again at how naturally children present their cases. Maybe this is why I love teaching opinion writing to all levels of elementary students.

Because I work with several grades, I create process charts for each grade that align with the standards. These charts, as are all I am sharing in this post are in my chartbook which I’ve written about here.  I am sharing a third grade example in this post, but it’s easy to envision revising it for a different grade. I think it’s so important for students (and teachers) to understand what they should know and be able to do within a genre of writing by the end of the unit.

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Another favorite tool I keep in my notebook that I use during MANY conferences and small groups is a continuum of how those skills look in writing. Again, I am sharing my third grade example. Students benefit by seeing how my writing develops, especially when I place it side by side my process chart or a checklist. Their confidence goes way up when they see the subtle differences.

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Paper is one of the most underrated scaffolds and teaching tools, and I have carried different types of paper in my toolkit for a while. What has been a really useful page, though, is one that just shows them these lines. We talk about how we could envision the flow of a text. From third grade on, students are expected to create an organizational structure, and talking about how that organization will look BEFORE students begin writing leads to much improved organization in their writing.

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The next two pages I use for several grades. When my nephew wanted to sleep over at his friend’s house, there was no doubt about his wishes–his claim was clear. And yet, I bet that all teachers who have taught elementary students opinion writing can attest to the fact that claims sometimes lose their clarity within the mud of reasons, evidence, and other teaching points. “Don’t ever lost sight of what you are trying to say,” I tell students, regardless of the type of opinion writing they are doing. I teach them to state their claim loud and proud, clear and strong with this page. It’s effective whether they are writing personal opinions, research-based essays, or even literary essays. Again, I love having tools in any unit that show students typical ways writers end up in trouble, and strategies for finding their ways out of that trouble. Frequently when I use this page, I remove the bottom green post-it note. That way, I have a task for active engagement during a conference or small group.

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The final page I am sharing in this post is one of my favorites for developing voice in student writing. My nephew had plenty of voice as he argued with his mother, and he used the first, third, and fourth strategy like a champ, even though he still ended up sleeping in his own bed. Students’ writing gains so much personality when I’ve provided them the repertoire of this page.

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If you’re wanting to know what the pink notes say, here you go:

  • You’re probably wondering
  • Why would I need…
  • This may surprise you, but…
  • Here’s a surprise:
  • Shocker:
  • Here’s what you’re worrying about…
  • If you are worrying…
  • I know you’re going to say______, but___________

For whatever unit, at whatever grade, I recommend creating pages in a chartbook that supports them. I’ve tried in this post to give not only a peek into some of the ways I approach the instruction of opinion writing, but also an idea of the charts that would serve as a foundation for other genres in other grades.