digital tools · note-taking · research-based writing · writing workshop

A Pathway in For Opinion Writing

Last week, I posted about ways to inspire students to do some narrative writing using a short video clip. Videos have so much power not only to motivate writers, but also to provide them access when they’re experiencing a roadblock along the writing highway.

Research-based opinion writing is especially full of potential roadblocks for elementary students. Those roadblocks exist for a lot of reasons. Kids who are working on reading proficiency have to find sources, identify biases, integrate information, take effective notes, and then establish an organizational structure with the goal of developing a cohesive and well-written argument. It’s a big leap from writing about why pizza is the best food ever to why schools should serve healthy lunches.

Accessibility to resources and information becomes critically important as students move into the realm of supporting their opinions –or even developing their opinions– and as with other forms of writing, the more options and pathways provided, the more likelihood of success. This is why I appreciate the resources from KQED.

Before you go digging into the link, please know that many of the topics are designed for high school students and contain content that is not appropriate or comprehendible for most elementary students. However, there are several videos that are. Here are some of the ones I’ve used successfully with fourth and fifth-graders:

In seven to ten minutes through a fast-moving, multi-media presentation Above the Noise provides a mostly balanced overview of the debates that exist around issues. There is a viewing guide available for all videos that are ready to go as an assignment in Google Classroom. Even more importantly, depending on the goals of your instruction, there are note-taking opportunities that offer pro/con practice without the potential for copying and pasting other people’s words. I don’t know about you, but I find it very hard to get new note-takers to take notes in their own words!

Here’s how I’ve used them:

  1. I’ve watched the video with students, first stopping it myself and cueing them to take notes in a pro-con T-chart that they’ve set up themselves. By doing this, I’ve taught into how they can stop the video themselves or ask for it to be stopped at any point so that they can catch up with their notes.
  2. I’ve coached students to create sections in their notes for key facts and vocabulary, modeling with both my notes, as well as their own.
  3. After the video concludes, we compare notes. I can point out how I’ll use mine, and students can get a quick gauge for whether they have enough notes to create an organizational structure. This is when I ask students to pick a side based on their belief or the strength of their notes and the ideas.
  4. We make boxes and bullets using the notes. What are the big ideas, and how do our notes support them? At this time, I challenge students to think about whether they have enough to say for each idea.
  5. We practice “speaking an essay.” Speaking an essay involves speaking in sentences, combining reasons and corresponding evidence that supports those reasons. As students talk through their reasons and the ideas that support them, I cue them with transitional phrases in order to develop their speaking fluency. It’s amazing to me how quickly students can improve their delivery when they listen to themselves and have opportunities for “redo’s.”
  6. While most of the time, I’ve used pro and con issues to have debates in classrooms where students present their “sides,” listen to the other side, and then rebut, I see just as much value, if not more, in teaching students to do the kind of coaching I describe in step 6. Instead of listening to rebut, students can listen to help each other speak more fluently and present their ideas more clearly. I can’t wait to try tapping into students’ coaching power!
  7. Many times at this point, I’ve had students write their verbal essays. The verbal rehearsal leads to much stronger written products for most students.

Just as I emphasize the importance of students finding their own narrative topics in my recent post, I also emphasize the importance of students recognizing debatable issues and doing some research around them. However, students also need practice in note-taking and organizing ideas. Many of these videos provide that targeted practice with both engaging topics and formats.

4 thoughts on “A Pathway in For Opinion Writing

  1. Thanks for these ideas and resources. I will definitely use this as we are gearing up for Exhibition in grade 5 and students have to be versatile note takers.


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