If they can’t say it out loud, they probably can’t write it down.
This mantra was instilled in me years ago as I engaged in professional learning around the practice of teaching writing. As I sat in a classroom of young writers, I marveled at the ways in which their writing was driven by talk–and at the impact this had on their ideas and writing skills.
Writing requires an abundance of executive functioning skills: attention and focus, long- and short-term planning, letter formation, spelling, conventions, and the ability to clearly express ideas (just to name a few!). By inviting writers to orally rehearse their work before they put words on the page, we teach them to balance this demanding cognitive load. We are also able to quickly gain insight into which students have “got it” and who may need some additional support.
As spring rolls around, many teachers with whom I work are immersed in the genre of opinion writing. This writing structure can sometimes become complicated for young writers as they navigate stating opinions and making claims, supporting ideas with reasons, providing evidence, and–for more advanced writers–developing arguments and considering opposing opinions. There are multiple layers to developing a good opinion piece, and oral language can be used to support students throughout this process in ways that are both engaging and fun.
How might this work look? Here is a quick if/then troubleshooting guide to support the use of oral language to build opinion writing skills.
If your students need support with stating a clear opinion, you might try:
Playing “Would You Rather?” This game is fun for kids (and adults) of all ages because it can be played in partners, small groups, or whole class and takes little or even no prep. With each round of the game, the leader (teacher or student) presents two options that require players to make an opinion-based choice (i.e. Would you rather wear snow boots in the summer or sandals in the snow? Would you rather take a ship across the ocean or a train across the country?) Prompts can vary by students’ ages and interests and will likely spark some lively conversations.
Opinion Writing Connection: While playing, reinforce that students are making choices based on their opinion–and highlight how not everyone shares the same opinion.
Playing “4 Corners.” Similar to “Would You Rather?”, this game involves giving students four choices and asking them to make a selection by moving to a specific corner of your learning space. (i.e. Which type of book do you like the most: Mystery, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, or Realistic Fiction?) This game is both kinesthetic and social, giving kids the opportunity to physically move and to see the preferences of their classmates in a very concrete way.
Opinion Writing Connection: Remind students that we often have opinions about things that aren’t an “either/or” choice–we frequently have many different options from which to select our preference.
If your students need support with providing reasons to support a claim, you might try:
Playing “Which One Doesn’t Belong?” This game is great for both stating and supporting opinions and for building flexibility in thinking. Provide a 4-box frame with similar images in each square, making sure that students can find something 3–but not all 4–have in common in several different ways. Ask students to identify which one they think doesn’t belong and support their opinion with specific reasons.
Opinion Writing Connection: This is a great activity for kids in the earlier grades who are just beginning to use simple reasons to support their claims.
Taking “Would You Rather?” and “4 Corners” a step further. Once students are confident in sharing their opinion, immediately take this work to the next level and ask them to share why.
Opinion Writing Connection: If needed, use sentence frames to support this work (I chose ____ because ____). These activities are also the perfect opportunity to highlight how two people may have the same opinion for completely different reasons.
Engaging in a Discussion Using the “Big Deal or No Big Deal” Framework (Frazen & Wischow, 2020). In this type of discussion, present your students with a topic (an event, person, object, etc.) and have them rate it on a scale from “Big Deal” to “No Big Deal.” After they have determined their own rating, have them pair up with a partner or small group and discuss their perception and the reasons behind it.
Opinion Writing Connection: Just like the previous activity, “Big Deal or No Big Deal” nudges kids to defend their thinking and recognize when others have similar opinions for different reasons.
If your students need support finding examples or evidence, you might try:
Building on ideas with the “Yes, and…” structure. In this oral language activity, students take turns building on one another’s ideas. The teacher or a student first states a reason that supports a specific claim, then the next person must add on with the phrase “Yes, and…” For example, in supporting the claim that plastic bags should not be used, the teacher might share the reason that plastic bags are harmful in the ocean. Students may then add on with statements such as, “Yes, and animals may mistake them for jellyfish and try to eat them,” or “Yes, and predators will starve if they get plastic in their stomachs,” and so on.
Opinion Writing Connection: Shift this work to the planning students do when preparing to write their opinion pieces. It will both solidify their arguments and help them discover when–or if–they need to do some research on their topic.
If your students need support with making counter-arguments, you might try:
Shifting “Yes, and…” to “Yes, but…” This activity will flow in the same way as described above, but instead of asking students to build onto one another’s ideas they will be encouraged to think of the opposing viewpoint.
Opinion Writing Connection: Encourage students to retrace the steps of the discussion as they consider what they will write. How did the counter-arguments evolve over time?
If your students need support with understanding their audience, you might try:
Role Playing “How Would You Say It?” Present students with a claim or situation and ask them to make a statement with reasons for a specific audience. Then, in a small group, ask them to make the same statement to a different audience or multiple audiences. For example, ask students to verbally explain or “act out” how they would convince first their parents, then their friends, and finally their local grocery store to stop using plastic bags.
Opinion Writing Connection: Understanding audience–and their perspective–is critical for strong opinion writing. Use this activity as a bridge to help students understand that their word choices and the evidence they use in their writing is influenced strongly by the audience the writer is trying to convince. This is not only a good exercise for planning and drafting but is also powerful for the revision process.
A Final Thought
Oral language can–and should–play a supporting role in our writing workshops, from planning to drafting to revision. These activities are easy to plan and implement and support the development of both listening and speaking.
Above all, oral rehearsal builds writers’ confidence while simultaneously growing writing skills. As students develop more and more sophisticated writing abilities, the integration of oral language pushes their thinking and strengthens their ability to craft thoughtful, intentional arguments.
One thought on “Use Oral Language to Strengthen Opinion Writing (For Writers of All Ages!)”
I love all of these engaging ideas for oral rehearsal, Sarah. As you said, “These activities are easy to plan and implement and support the development of both listening and speaking.” Easy to plan and carry out is always a plus!