Standard Lesson

Communicating on Local Issues: Exploring Audience in Persuasive Letter Writing

Grades
9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 50-minute sessions
Publisher
NCTE
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Overview

In this lesson, after brainstorming a list of local issues, students select and research an issue that concerns them, using Internet and print sources. Next, students review the concepts of purpose and audience. They then argue a position on their selected issue in letters to two different audiences, addressing their own purpose and considering the needs of the audience in each letter. Students work with peer groups as they use an online tool to draft and revise their letters. Finally, letters are published using the online, interactive Letter Generator, and then sent to their intended readers.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

In 1998, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) undertook a study of 200 writing classrooms in grades four and eight for the purpose of looking at writing in a natural setting. One of their findings indicated the importance of an authentic audience, suggesting that "the better assignments asked students to write to an authentic audience in a genuine act of communication." The study found that "when the audience is not real and the communication not authentic, the writing is often weak." Similarly, Kixmiller writes: "Authentic writing assignments can have this power. They can help students make sense of their world while advocating for change." This lesson plan focuses on authentic audience by asking students to write letters to specific readers on local issues that concern them.

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

Research materials for local issues

Printouts

Websites

Preparation

Student Objectives

Students will

  • identify and research a local issue.

  • develop an awareness of the needs of different audience.

  • adjust written language to communicate effectively with their audiences.

  • learn the conventions and format of a business letter.

  • complete a process-based writing activity.

Session One

  1. Ask students to brainstorm a list of local issues that they feel strongly about. Any items are relevant, whether they will effect, for instance, the entire community, a community group, a specific business or school, or a specific person.

  2. Record students’ suggestions on the board or on chart paper. Place the emphasis on simply compiling a list, rather than on discussing the different issues in any depth.

  3. After you have gathered a list, read over the ideas and make any additions or revisions.

  4. Ask students to choose one of the issues that they feel strongly about, and write a 10-minute journal entry on the topic. Their goal is to record their preliminary ideas about the topic and explore their position on it.

  5. Once the writing is complete, ask students to share their positions on the issues.

  6. Arrange students in small groups, based on the positions they are exploring, and ask them to discuss the different sides of the issue they have chosen. Allow approximately 20 minutes for the discussion.

  7. Gather the class and have students share their discussion with the entire class.

  8. Ask students to read through their journal entries, and follow them with a list of possible positions that others might take and the related audiences that a writer might communicate that position to.

  9. After students have had time to create their lists, explain that they will be writing about the position that they have chosen to two different audiences. Explain that you will share more details on the writing during the next session.

  10. For now, focus students’ attention on gathering background information on their issues. Pass out research materials and resources for the project:

    • Local and/or regional newspaper and television station Web links. (see Websites in Resources section)

    • Copies of local newspapers.

    • Web links or details on local public access channels (if relevant).

    • Local government Web links.

    • Links to any other Websites with relevant information.
  11. In the time remaining and for homework, ask students to review the resources and gather additional information on the issues that they have chosen.

  12. Ask students to be ready to share and use their research at the beginning of the next class session. Allow additional research sessions or homework time as necessary for students to gather their preliminary research.

Session Two

  1. Introduce or review the Purpose and Audience Analysis information handout.

  2. Arrange students in small groups. If possible, group students who have researched the same or similar issues.

  3. Ask group members to each to identify the audience and purpose of the one of the articles that they read for homework, and share their findings with the rest of the group. Encourage students to refer to the rhetorical concepts of purpose and audience as they work.

  4. Circulate among groups, checking progress and providing feedback as necessary.

  5. Once groups have analyzed these first articles, ask students to choose one issue that they have discussed as a group and brainstorm a list of other positions that someone writing about the trial might take and the related audiences that person might address.

  6. From this list, ask groups to choose one potential audience and a purpose for communicating with that audience.

  7. Have each group work through the Basic Questions about Audience for the particular group they are considering:

    • What do you know about audiences’ age, gender, geographical location, education, professional position and so forth?

    • What is the audiences’ current point of view on the issue?

    • What personal information about the audience might influence their position or feelings on the issue?

    • What will the audience want to know about the issue and why?
  8. Once students have identified basic information about their audience, ask each group to brainstorm ways that they would convince the particular audience of a specific position.

  9. After students have had ten to fifteen minutes to work, ask them to summarize their points on chart paper or on a section of the board. Ask each group to choose a representative to present their ideas to the rest of the class.

  10. When groups are ready, gather the class and ask each group to share their ideas with the rest of the class. As they listen, ask class members to listen for similarities and differences among the strategies that the groups would use to present their information to the specific audience.

  11. Once the presentations have been completed, ask students to review the lists and identify how audience and purpose shaped the similarities and differences among the presentations.

  12. As students discuss the presentations, listen for general guidelines that students will be able to use in their own writing to specific audiences (e.g., the kinds of details that are included depend upon the position that the writer is arguing, the ways that information is shared depend upon the needs of the audience). Note these observations on the board.

  13. Ask students to return to the research that they have completed on their issues and identify why the writers included the ideas that they did in the order that they did in the piece. Encourage students to identify supporting facts and examples in the article that help the writers accomplish their goals. Likewise, ask students why the information is presented in the order that it is.

  14. To summarize the ways that audience and purpose effect a message, ask students to review the list of general guidelines that you recorded as they discussed the positions and the article. Have students make additions and revisions as necessary, explaining that they will use this list of guidelines in their own writing about the issues chosen during the first session.

Session Three

  1. Review the list of ways that audience and purpose influence a message, from the previous session.

  2. Ask students to discuss how the two items that they have chosen from their piles reflect those guidelines.

  3. Answer any questions that students still have about the role of audience and purpose have in composing a message.

  4. Explain the assignment that students will complete in more detail:
    You will use the research that you’ve gathered to write two letters on the issue, each to a different reader. Your job in each letter is to convince the reader to either adopt the same position on the issue that you have or to take an action related to the issue that you support.

    You can look back to the list that you brainstormed in your journal, as well as the lists from the Scopes Monkey Trial for examples of different audiences.
  5. Pass out copies of the Rubric for Persuasive Letters, and discuss the expectations for the assignment.

  6. Answer any questions that students have about the activity.

  7. Have individual students return to their notes and lists from the previous sessions and choose a specific purpose and two audiences for their letters.

  8. If classroom time allows, students can share their choices with the class or in small groups.

  9. Focus students’ attention on the audiences for their letters by passing out two copies of the Persuasive Letter Audience Analysis to each student (one for each audience they will address in their letters). Discuss how students will use the forms to think through the needs of their two audiences.

  10. For homework, ask students to complete the Persuasive Letter Audience Analysis for the two audiences they have chosen. Students should come to the next session with the forms completed.

Session Four

  1. Answer any questions that students have about their letter audiences and the Persuasive Letter Audience Analysis forms that they completed for homework.

  2. Pass out copies of the Persuasion Map Planning Sheet, and use the information to discuss the organization and structure of the letters that students will write. Emphasize the following points:

    • Include a goal or thesis statement that states what the reader should do.

    • Outline reasons to support the thesis.

    • Provide facts or examples to back up each reason.

    • Be sure that facts support the needs of the audience.

    • Discuss the purpose and use of a counter-argument in persuasion.

    • Arrange reasons and support in a logical sequence.
  3. Demonstrate how to use the Persuasion Map to gather and organize information for the two letters.

  4. Review the Rubric for Persuasive Letters so they know expectations and requirements.

  5. Allow students the remainder of the session to work on their letter drafts.

  6. For homework, ask students to complete drafts of their two letters. Emphasize that students will need these drafts at the beginning of the next session for peer review.

Session Five

  1. Answer any immediate questions that students have about their drafts.

  2. Arrange students in groups of three each.

  3. Pass out four copies of the Peer Review Guidelines for Persuasive Letters to each student.

  4. Ask students to get out their copies of the Rubric for Persuasive Letters, for reference during the session.

  5. Explain the system for reviewing the letters:

    • Each writer reads one letter out loud while the two peer reviewers in the group listen.

    • After the writer is finished reading, the peer reviewers each write notes on the top portion of their forms.

    • Repeat the process until all six of the letters (two for each group member) have been read out loud.

    • Each writer passes the letter drafts to the peer reviewers.

    • Each peer reviewer reads each letter silently to himself or herself and answers the questions on the lower 2/3 of the peer review form. Each peer reviewer will read four different letters.

    • Peer reviewers return the drafts and peer review forms to the letter’s authors.

    • At the end of the process, each writer should have two peer review forms for each letter.
  6. Once students understand the process, have them begin the review process. Circulate among students and provide support and feedback as necessary.

  7. After review are completed, ask students to begin work revising their letters.

  8. Ask students to begin working on revisions for both letters. Revisions for both letters should be completed for the next class meeting.

  9. With approximately ten minutes left during the session, review the format for a business letter, using Letter Generator and/or Workplace Writers resource from the OWL at Purdue.

  10. Answer any questions that students have about the format and conventions for their letters.

  11. For homework, ask students to complete their revisions as well as to edit and proofread their letters. Students can publish their letters using the Letter Generator. Ask students to bring two copies of the final draft of each letter and two envelopes with postage for the next class session. Students will turn one letter in for a grade. They will sign and mail the other copy to the intended recipient.

Extensions

  • Students can write a public letter on their issues by composing a letter to the editor of the local newspaper. Use the ReadWriteThink lesson plan Persuading an Audience: Writing Effective Letters to the Editor.

  • If resources allow, students can compose letters for online delivery. Students might e-mail letters to specific readers, use online resources (such as a contact form on a Website), or post their comments in a relevant location on a blog that addresses local issues.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Check drafts and forms for completion and effort. Look in particular for indications that students’ audience analysis shaped the drafts of their letters; likewise, note evidence that students used the feedback from peer review to revise and improve their final letter draft. Assess students’ final drafts using the criteria outlined in the Rubric for Persuasive Letters.

  • If desired, ask students to write a a short, reflective journal entry that explains how they addressed their different audiences and the choices they made to meet the needs of each specific audience. Additionally, ask them to discuss what they learned about audience awareness from the assignment.

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