In Part One of this two-part blog series, I discussed the importance of teaching students the Opinion Writing genre and explored the goals of the Being a Writer Opinion Writing units throughout the grades. In this blog, I will explore activities found in these units’ lessons, as well as discuss the importance of audience in motivating students to write what matters most to them.
Immersion and Drafting
No matter the grade level, during the early weeks of a Being a Writer Opinion Writing unit, students are immersed in hearing and reading anchor texts as they explore elements of this genre. Time is also spent generating topics. In kindergarten and first grade, students are guided to write opinions about topics such as liked/disliked foods, animals that would make good pets, and fun activities at school. The options give students the power to choose what interests them while providing support so that students do not cry that oft-heard phrase, “I don’t have anything to write about!”
By second grade, students do quick-writes completing the statement “I know you don’t think I should _________, but here’s why I should _________.” in a letter to their parents. This is followed with an even more entertaining activity where they finish this statement “I know you think I should _________, but here’s why I shouldn’t _________.” Once again, this frame honors student choice while still providing support in finding ideas to write about. In later grades, students are supported in brainstorming open-ended topics that they feel strongly about.
By sixth grade, this instruction has progressed to one week for topic selection and two weeks for research and drafting. During this second phase, students are taught to explore two sides of an argument by stating a claim and addressing a counter claim.
The video below shows a fifth-grade lesson in action during the Immersion and Drafting phase of the Opinion unit. Please note the important social skills addressed at the end of the video: students listen to, discuss, and express appreciation for one another’s writing and reflect on how they and their classmates showed respect for different opinions (a skill desperately needed in the 21st century!). This video is found in our Being a Writer Online Course.
For a more detailed explanation of the Immersion and Drafting phase of the writing process in Being a Writer, read the blog “Being a Writer: Powerful Writing Instruction for Older Writers, Part One: Immersion and Drafting.”
Revision, Proofreading, and Publication
With our youngest writers, completed pieces are simply shared from the Author’s Chair. By second grade, students are guided to confer in pairs while giving revision suggestions about what might make their partners’ pieces more persuasive.
During Proofreading, first graders learn to correct for ending punctuation, capital letters, and spelling. In the upper grades, students learn about direct quotes; commas after introductory words, phrases, and clauses; run-ons and fragments; and citing sources.
Finished pieces of writing are always shared from the Author’s Chair and then sent home to share with families.
For full details on the Revision, Proofreading, and Publication phases in all units of Being a Writer, refer to the blog “Being a Writer: Powerful Writing Instruction for Older Writers, Part Two: Revision, Proofreading, and Publishing.”
As with all units in Being a Writer, several assessments are included. To read about the full range of assessments, see the blog “Being a Writer: Powerful Writing Instruction for Older Writers, Part Three: Assessments.”
My favorite way to not only assess a student’s writing but to dig into their thinking as they write is by way of a writing conference. Watch this video to see how a teacher gently guides a fifth grader to narrow his MANY opinions down to one effective one.
When I first learned about the writing process over three decades ago, the gurus of the era shared the importance audience and purpose have in motivating and guiding writers. In Being a Writer, students always share their writing with their class from the Author’s Chair. This provides an important first audience for students’ writing. In the Opinion unit, time is further spent studying audience and purpose. There is nothing more powerful than writing and sharing with an audience beyond the classroom walls. I will never forget the day my principal came storming into my classroom wanting to know who had written to the teachers of our math program telling them that the students did not enjoy it. It was Elaine—a student with a lengthy IEP who had not learned to read until late in fourth grade. Elaine had eagerly and proudly shared with the teachers her suggestions for improving their program. As the fiery principal charged out of the room, she left us with this directive (to the students’ delight): “Kids, keep up the great work in writing. Dickman, see me after school!” Later she shared that she wanted to continue getting student writing to real audiences, but that she would like a bit of warning on controversial topics.
A few years later, Senator Michael Bennet came to the tiny town of Monte Vista, Colorado (where I worked as an outside literacy consultant) in response to a fifth grader’s letter about changing a certain law in our state. This was an over-five-hour drive, but the US senator wanted to visit personally with the young man who had composed such a well written persuasive letter.
Being a Writer instructs and guides students from kindergarten to sixth grade to share their opinions and arguments with the world while using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence. Not only is this genre intrinsically motivating, it gives students a voice in making our world a much better place. My student Martine’s essay “Being Yourself” encouraged boys in the class to wear pink shoes; Maria’s “Always Be Kind” reminded us to be careful with our words; Sammie’s “Celebrate the Little Things”taught us that spending time with a friend was better than a trip to Disneyland; and Emma’s message in “Laughter Makes the Best Medicine” gave us scientific evidence that laughing helps heal sickness. Of course, sometimes these essays were simply light hearted and fun as in Emily’s “If Global Warming Is True, Where Are All the Hot Guys?” and Cody’s response “The Hot Guys Are Right Here in this Class!”
Follow the Opinion unit in Being a Writer and find out for yourself the wisdom and humor students will share when guided to put their opinions in writing.