Standard Lesson

Persuading the Principal: Writing Persuasive Letters About School Issues

6 - 8
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Seven 60-minute sessions
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This lesson gives students the opportunity to examine opinion editorials and write their own on school issues. After reading and listening to opinion pieces, students identify strong examples of persuasion and record them on a graphic organizer. Small groups then brainstorm issues in the school that they believe deserve action plans. Each group uses graphic organizers to explore its issue. The group then constructs a letter on that issue. The letter is then edited for grammar and content, typed on a word processor, printed, and delivered to the school principal.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Social justice "can be at the forefront of a secondary English curriculum that simultaneously incorporates traditional skill development and critical analysis."

  • In a heterogeneous classroom focusing on social activism, the teacher should place student-generated inquiry questions at the forefront.

  • Students should explore examples of social activism in order to identify the traits of an agent of change before engaging in their own activism.

  • Students hone reading skills by applying essential nonfiction reading strategies to texts as they explore their topics.

  • Writing that aims at affecting social change should be shared publicly.

  • Students should be given the opportunity to choose activism issues that speak to them personally.

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.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 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

  • Computers with Internet access and printing capability

  • One computer with Internet access and speakers

  • Overhead projector or whiteboard




1. If you do not have classroom computers with Internet access, reserve time in your school's computer lab for Sessions 4 and 7.

2. Familiarize yourself with content on the websites listed in the Web Resources. The "Free Speech, In and Out of School" article focuses on students' rights to free speech and was written from an adult perspective for an adult audience. The "To Sag or Not to Sag" podcast reflects a student's perspective on the fashion trend of boys wearing low-riding pants (click the audio bar to hear podcast; feature starts around 15:19). Alternatively, you may want to locate editorial articles on topics that are relevant to your particular group of students-such as school uniforms, for example.

3. Print a copy for each student of the article or bookmark the podcast on your classroom computer so that you can also play it for your students (see Sessions 1 and 2).

4. Print and review the Elements of Effective Persuasive Writing and Persuasive Writing Topic Exploration handouts. Each student will need three copies of the Elements of Effective Persuasive Writing handout. Each group of students will need one copy of the Persuasive Writing Topic Exploration handout.

5. Familiarize yourself with the interactive Persuasion Map and Letter Generator websites. Bookmark both websites on your classroom or school lab computers. If you experience technical difficulties, you may need to download the newest version of the Flash plug-in, which is available for free on the Technical Help page of this website. You may want to create and print your own persuasion map and letter to serve as models.

6. Review the Persuasive Writing: Letter to the Principal Rubric. Print out two copies per student.

7. For part of this lesson students will need to work in collaborative writing groups of no more than three students each. Think about how you would like to group students. Will students choose their own groups, or will you group students based on abilities, interests, personalities, etc.? If you are planning on grouping students yourself, create a list of the groups ahead of time for Session 3.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Interpret and evaluate published persuasive pieces of writing in order to identify and emulate elements of effective persuasive writing

  • Develop problem identification and exploration skills by examining issues in the school community

  • Develop persuasive writing skills by formulating a strong persuasive argument and employing elements of effective persuasive writing

  • Develop and expand knowledge and application of written language conventions by reading and analyzing published pieces of persuasive writing and engaging in the writing process (including editing and revising)

Sessions 1 & 2: Exploring the Elements of Effective Persuasive Letter Writing

1. Introduce the concept of persuasive letter writing. Ask students to brainstorm reasons why people write letters. Focus on the idea of writing letters to influence someone's opinion or effect change in the community. Use letters to the editor in a newspaper or magazine as examples of sharing one's opinion, attempting to influence others' opinions, and encouraging community change.

Depending on your students, you may want to briefly discuss the elements of a standard business letter.

2. Tell students they will have the opportunity to write letters to the most influential person in their immediate community, the principal, about a school issue that they believe needs to be addressed. First, however, they need to understand what makes an effective piece of persuasive writing.

3. Hand out three copies of the Elements of Effective Persuasive Writing graphic organizer to each student. Discuss each of the elements of effective writing listed on the handout. Ask students to record explanations of each element as you discuss them (under the "What does this mean?" question). You should be sure to cover the following points:
  • Position: Writers need to clearly state their positions on their topics in order to persuade their readers. If a writer is not clear about his/her beliefs on the topic, s/he stands little chance of convincing someone else to make a change. In addition, when writers collaborate on a persuasive piece of writing, all involved must agree to support the same position. Sometimes writers even take a position they do not personally agree with and work to explain that position. You should emphasize this last point as students will be working in groups to develop their own persuasive letters. All students in a group must agree to adopt one single position in their letter.

  • Attention to Audience: Writers need to adjust their writing based on their audience. This is especially true when the goal of the writing is to persuade the reader to take action. The writing style will be formal when the audience is a person in a position of authority and casual when the audience is a friend or family member. Illustrate the differences in formal and casual writing by asking students to consider the differences in the ways that they write notes (or emails) to their friends versus the way they would write a letter (or email) to the President of the United States.

  • Factual Support: In order to be convincing, a persuasive piece of writing needs to include factual details. Provide students with examples of factual support (i.e., data, anecdotes, interviews, information from other sources such as newspapers and books, and so forth). Students will be using their own experiences and observations as factual support for their persuasive letters. (If you are interested in having your students practice this aspect of effective persuasive writing further, please see the extension activity focusing on Internet research following the lesson.)

  • Effective Word Choice: Persuasive language is strong but appropriate. Writers need to choose words that are also descriptive and specific. An excellent example of effective word choice is Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.

  • Ethos: Ethos is the credibility to write. Discuss what gives a particular writer credibility to write a persuasive piece of writing. Give students examples of people who would be considered credible sources on particular topics (i.e., a doctor on health issues, a teacher on education, a government official on local political issues). Ask students to consider what gives them credibility to write about school issues.
4. Hand out copies of the editorial article or go to the bookmarked podcast on the class computer. Tell students that they will be reading or listening to pieces of persuasive writing and that, as they read this article or listen to the podcast, they should be looking for the ways that the author uses the elements of effective persuasive writing shown on the graphic organizer.

5. Read aloud (or if using the podcast, play aloud) the article. Pause periodically to ask students to locate examples of effective elements in the article. Ask students to record each example on the handout. (If students need additional support recording ideas, model writing examples in the appropriate sections of the graphic organizer and display on an overhead projector.)

6. Repeat Step 5 with editorial article or podcast not used in Steps 1-5. This time, ask students to read the article silently and record examples of the elements used in the article on the graphic organizer. When all students are finished working, ask them to share the examples they found. Encourage students to record any examples not already on their graphic organizers that are shared by others.

Session 3: Brainstorming and Selecting Persuasive Letter Topics

1. Remind students that one of the purposes for writing persuasive letters is to effect change in one's community and that they will have the opportunity to do so for an issue important to them. Ask students to brainstorm problems or issues in their school community that they believe need to be addressed. List their ideas on the chalkboard, whiteboard, or overhead projector.

2. Ask students to re-examine the topic list, thinking about the elements of effective persuasive writing discussed during the previous two sessions. You may want to ask students to take out the graphic organizer they completed as a reminder. Narrow down the list considering these factors (cross out ideas that are not appropriate considering these elements).

Some questions to consider asking students during this discussion include the following:
  • Audience: Considering that the audience for your letter will be the principal, which topics are appropriate and not appropriate? Which issues from our list will the principal have the power to change? Which issues is the principal most likely (or least likely) to address?

  • Factual Support: For which topics can you come up with strong, convincing factual support? What are some examples of factual support that you can think of for each particular topic?

  • Ethos: Do you have the credibility or authority to write about a particular topic? Why or why not? What gives you this credibility or authority? Why do you believe that the principal should listen to your argument on this issue?
3. Place students in collaborative writing groups. Either allow students to place themselves in groups of no more than three students each or assign students to groups (using the list you prepared before the lesson). Depending on the makeup of the class you can do any of the following to assign topics:
  • Allow each group to select their own topic. This option is best if your students are able to work independently and are motivated by choice. You may have some groups writing about the same topic.

  • Allow each group to select three topics. Then assign one topic from that list. This option is best if you want to ensure only one topic per group and/or if students need guidance selecting appropriate topics.

  • Assign each group a topic based on what you know about their interests. This option is best if students need guidance selecting appropriate topics.

  • Randomly assign each group a topic. This option is best if students have prior experience with persuasive writing and/or you want to prepare students to write on demand.
4. Once students are in their groups, tell them they will be spending some time exploring their topics before planning and writing their letters to the principal. Hand out one copy of the Persuasive Writing Topic Exploration graphic organizer to each group. Tell each group to write a short description of their position on the topic in the center of the organizer. Then ask each group of students to brainstorm and record reasons for their position on their graphic organizers. Students should draw from their own personal experiences and observations as reasons for their position. Tell students they should aim to fill all of the circles on the graphic organizer with ideas. Ask each group to "elect" one member of the group to record the group's ideas on the graphic organizer. Move between groups of students helping them brainstorm their ideas.

Session 4: Persuasive Letter Planning and Writing

1. Place students in their groups and ask them to have their Persuasive Writing Topic Exploration handouts on their desks. Tell them that they will be planning their persuasive letters to the principal. Remind them that the persuasive writing they read or heard at the beginning of the lesson focused on a few specific reasons for the writers' positions. Ask students to discuss which reasons recorded on their graphic organizers are the most specific and convincing. Tell them to then circle the three strongest reasons. You may want to refer students back to their Elements of Effective Persuasive Writing graphic organizers if they need assistance selecting their top three reasons.

2. Direct groups to the bookmarked Persuasion Map on the classroom computer or in the computer lab and go over instructions for using the map. If you have created a sample map, pass it out to students and review. Have students enter their names (each group enters all group members' names) and topics on the opening screen. Then have students complete the first section ("Goal or thesis"). The goal or thesis is the position that the group is taking on the topic. Students should then enter the three reasons and facts and examples to support each reason.

3. Allow students time (approximately 20-30 minutes) to complete their Persuasion Maps. Remind students to print their maps before exiting.

4. When students complete their maps, they should use the rest of the time to start writing their letters to the principal using their maps as guides.

Sessions 5 and 6: Persuasive Letter Revision

1. Students should spend the first half of the session writing their letters down. After about 30 minutes, tell them that if they have not completed their letters, they should do so during their free time or for homework.

2. Hand out one copy of the Persuasive Writing: Letter to the Principal Rubric to each student. Explain that you will be using these characteristics to evaluate students' letters. Quickly review the areas that you will use to evaluate and explain the four-point scale.

3. Tell students they will be using this rubric to help each other revise and edit their letters to the principal.

If necessary, provide a mini-lesson on the components of each of these processes (revising and editing). Explain to students that revising is making decisions about how you want to improve your writing; looking at your writing from a different point of view; and picking places where your writing could be clearer, more interesting, more informative, and more convincing. Then explain to students that editing is making corrections to spelling, capitalization, punctuation, grammar, sentence structure, subject/verb agreement, verb tense, and word usage.

4. Ask one member from each group to read the group's letter aloud to the class. As the student reads the letter, all other students in the class should complete the rubric (except sections pertaining to conventions). Then ask students to share their evaluations with the group who went. You can either have students share their evaluations aloud or collect the completed rubrics and hand them to the group to review and discuss.

5. After all letters have been read aloud and all rubrics completed, tell groups they are to revise their letters based on the rubrics completed by their classmates. Areas where they did not score a four should be revised. Tell groups they are also to review the conventions of their letters to ensure that the grammar, spelling, and punctuation are correct. To help students clearly see their revisions, you may want to ask students to use colored pencils or colored pens to record changes. Allow groups time to revise their letters (approximately 20-30 minutes).

Session 7: Persuasive Letter Publication

1. Direct groups to the bookmarked Letter Generator on the classroom computer or in the computer lab and go over instructions for using the website. Have students enter their names (each group enters all group members' names) on the opening screen. If students are unfamiliar with the layout of a business letter, have them click on "See the Parts of a Letter" and then click on sections of the letter. Students should complete all sections in the Letter Generator. Then ask one member from each group to slowly read aloud their draft letter while another group member types the body of the letter into the Letter Generator.

2. Allow students time (approximately 20-25 minutes or longer if students' typing skills are not well developed) to complete the final copies of their letters. Remind students to print two copies of their letters before exiting.

3. After students print their letters, collect one copy of the letter to assess. Provide each group with an envelope for the other copy of the letter. Either collect the envelopes to deliver to the principal later or send individual students to the school office to deliver them. If you plan to have students deliver letters as they finish them, you may want to make prior arrangements with the principal or office staff.

4. When all group letters are complete, bring the class together to discuss the lesson. Some questions to consider asking students during this discussion include the following:
  • How do you think that the principal will respond to your letter? Why?

  • What makes your group's letter persuasive?

  • If you were the principal, what would you do upon reading your letter?

  • In what other situations could you use persuasive letter writing? Why would this be an effective method for dealing with these particular issues or problems?


  • Arrange with the school principal to respond to students' letters. S/he could write response letters to each group or visit the class to discuss the letters. Be sure to provide him/her with a copy of the rubric to help him/her focus feedback on those skills students developed and practiced in this lesson.

  • Have students create action plans. They could write follow-up letters or create multimedia presentations for the principal proposing a solution to the issue that fits with the positions outlined in their persuasive letters.

  • Have students conduct research on the Internet, focusing on how other schools in the United States have handled their issue. Many issues, such as school uniforms and cell phone usage, are "hot " topics in other schools. Ask students to create multimedia presentations of their findings (using a program such as PowerPoint) to share with the class.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  • Observe student participation in the discussion about the elements of effective persuasive writing. Be sure to guide students as they identify and record examples of effective persuasive writing in the published pieces you examine as a class.

  • Review each collaborative writing group’s Persuasion Map and initial draft of their letter to the principal. Offer them feedback focused on the elements of effective persuasive writing.

  • Observe and use guiding questions as students evaluate each group’s letter to the principal using the Persuasive Writing: Letter to the Principal Rubric. Collect student rubrics and review them to help guide groups as they make revisions.

  • Assess the final product letters to the principal using the Persuasive Writing: Letter to the Principal Rubric.