Paper Choices for Opinion and Argument Writing: Reaching Your Writers

Consider the progression of learning that young readers often experience. As emergent readers, the first books they read on their own generally have most of the story represented in the picture, with just a line or two of text to accompany it. Later, as transitional (early chapter book) readers, kids will often encounter books with a little less picture support on each page, and many lines of text with each picture. Eventually, readers move along a progression that ultimately brings them to full scale chapter books, with very little picture support.

Of course, I’m using very broad strokes to describe a general progression here. Readers at all stages encounter texts of all kinds — but understanding the general progression of text difficulty is a helpful tool for understanding readers.

A progression can also be a helpful tool for understanding writers as well.

Teachers in grades K-2 often think about paper choices as they relate to narrative writing, beginning with “stretching a story across the pages” for emergent and beginning writers, progressing to paper with more and more lines, and less and less room for drawing, until students no longer need the scaffold of lines and space for a picture to organize their writing.

This progression applies to every kind of writing, including opinion and argument writing, and applies to older writers as well. Increasingly, teachers I work with are starting to offer their upper grade writers more options for different kinds of paper to support the planning and organization of their ideas.

Below is an updated version of a chart I created several years ago to represent very general stages of a learning progression for writing. (The original can be found here). This chart and the original version are adapted from the work found in Writing Pathways (Lucy Calkins et al), as well as the Common Core State Standards–though paper choices aren’t explicitly described this way in either. This chart is also based on my observations, trials and errors, and experiences teaching writing to preK-8 students for the past two decades.

This chart is specific to opinion, persuasive, and argument writing — any kind of writing that is expressing an idea or an opinion. Essays, persuasive letters, and speeches would fall into this category.

Many K-2 teachers are familiar with providing a booklet of paper for students to create stories. First, kids draw the pictures across the pages to plan how the story will go, then they go back and write the words to go with the story they’ve planned out in the pictures. The child who benefits from drawing a picture on each page before writing a few sentences to go with each picture when creating a story can also benefit from doing the same thing when expressing an opinion.

Similarly, the upper grade student who struggles with the organization of their thinking into paragraphs can benefit from putting one big idea per page or half sheet of lined paper. Starting with a few related sentences per page, and progressing to more and more elaboration per page. These pages provide a concrete understanding of what it means to use paragraphs.

Here’s an example of shared writing, using a booklet of paper, instead of a single sheet of paper with paragraphs. This is a first draft of a persuasive essay stretched across pages, with lots of room for revision–intentionally. This essay was created together with students–they came up with the words to say, and I wrote it on the paper.

Note how the supportive nature of separate sheets of paper creates paragraphs. Instead of writing to a formula, students gain a conceptual understanding – that writers organize their ideas into “parts” or “pages” or “paragraphs.”  Soon, this understanding will give way to simply leaving a space and/or an indent in between each part, instead of going to a fresh page.

Notice the key words at the top of each supporting page. We wrote those first to plan out what would go on each page. Also note that each of the supporting “paragraphs” are not formulaic. We began by just writing whatever we could think of, and will go back to revise it for smoother transitions, clearer topic sentences, and better supporting evidence. With a draft like this to build from, the emphasis can be on why writers tighten up their paragraphs (to convince readers, to make writing easier and/or interesting to read and understand), instead of writing to a fill-in-the blank, organizer, or formula.

In the example above, the paragraph/page on “donations” will need to be revised to match our introduction which was revised to say “fund-raising.” Using this draft, I’ll be able to emphasize the it would be confusing for the audience to see one thing in the introduction, and then something different in the body of the essay. When it comes time to revise that part, we can simply start a fresh page if we want and replace the old version. If we want to insert or remove several sentences into any part of our writing, we can use scissors and tape to do “surgery” on our writing–something students can’t do if they’ve written in a notebook.

As you can see, when students write across pages, the pages provide a visual, concrete way to organize their ideas. The pages can easily be moved around, revised, taken out, and added to — much more easily than when the work is in a notebook or on a single sheet of paper.

Providing options for paper allows all your students to do the same type of writing (opinion, persuasive, or argument) in many different ways. Differentiating the materials makes it possible for all your students to do the work–without having to resort to a formula or fill-in-the-blank worksheet. 

GIVEAWAY

  • This giveaway is for a copy of Every Child Can Write  (Link to: https://us.corwin.com/en-us/nam/every-child-can-write-grades-2-5/book265583) by Melanie  Meehan. Thanks to Corwin Publishers (Link to: https://www.corwin.com) for donating a copy of each of these books — one book for a primary educator and one book for a secondary educator. (You must have a U.S. mailing address to win a print copy of this book.)
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