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Arguments, Opinions, and Bears—Oh My!

By Isabel Sawyer | Categories: Writing

So that is who the writer writes for: for the reader.

Margaret Atwood

I just finished reading Jennifer Burton’s latest blog on Choice Literacy. She writes very thoughtfully about a topic most educators have on their minds-the role of argument, opinion, and persuasive writing in our classrooms. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) suggest that students write “opinion” pieces through grade 5, and then the language in the CCSS changes to “argument” at grade 6. In Being a Writer, we call this kind of writing “persuasive writing”. I wonder-are we splitting hairs? Using different labels for the same genre, depending upon how widely you cast your net? What do you think?

When writers craft an argumentative piece, the writer states her opinion and then provides supporting evidence for her thesis. Many young children are not yet sophisticated enough to argue for their position. Arguing requires a deep understanding of both sides of their argument. The CCSS doesn’t expect this sophisticated thinking until students are older. Until then, children are asked to state their opinion and then cite reasons for their opinion: opinion writing. We can and should begin encouraging this at a very young age and in a wide variety of ways; one simple way is through conversation and using prompts like “I think_______because________.”

Burton argues (no pun intended) that persuasive writing-different from stating an opinion with supporting facts and different from argument-takes a more emotional stance: PLLLEEEAAASSSEE agree with me that kids should be able to watch TV whenever they want because it is entertaining and they can learn a lot-I just love TV! Yet, at the same time, Burton admits that an argument with voice is, naturally, much more entertaining to read and therefore more convincing.

Burton expresses some concern that we will lose our young writers’ voices by over-focusing on argument. I too worry that by making these distinctions with writers they will begin to craft pieces that are more staid and formulaic and therefore not as exciting to read. And, as Atwood writes, So that is who the writer writes for: for the reader.

Really, isn’t what is most important here creating writers who love to write? Writers who have stamina and who are capable of writing in a wide variety of genres, including argument as well as narrative and nonfiction and poetry? Rather than focusing our energy on whether or not a child is successful at writing a piece that is argumentative rather than persuasive, shouldn’t we embrace the fact the he or she wrote a compelling piece on a topic that is important and caused the reader to think?

(So, how is this for argument writing?)