Standard Lesson

Persuasive Writing: What Can Writing in Family Message Journals Do for Students?

K - 2
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Three 30-minute sessions
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Building on an introductory lesson, Launching Family Message Journals, this lesson shows children how they can use daily journal communication with families to serve their needs. Students first write a message designed to persuade their families to modify a specific behavior. For example, they might write to persuade their family to recycle. Next, they write a message to help them get something they want for themselves, such as a new pet. Finally, they write a message to get help with something, such as a problem with a friend. By involving children in writing several messages with varied purposes, each related to school activities, this lesson helps students discover the power of writing to serve their needs. When children recognize what writing can do for them, they are motivated to write and to work at making their messages clearer and more persuasive.

From Theory to Practice

Family Message Journals provide an authentic writing experience for students that can be adapted for many purposes. In Family Message Journals: Teaching Writing through Family Involvement, Julie Wollman-Bonilla describes a number of functions that can be addressed through family message journals. She writes: "A functional perspective on writing-with a focus on how writing affects an audience and moves an audience to action-complements the individual use of writing as a purposeful tool. This flip side of the power of writing is essential to carefully designed writing curricula. Because of its multifaceted nature and the centrality of writing for an audience, the Family Message Journal can play a prominent role in such a curricula." This lesson highlights three authentic purposes for persuasive writing in Family Message Journals.

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

  • 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

  • A booklet or notebook to be used as a journal. Lined paper with an unlined block at the top (for illustrations) works well in the beginning.

  • Teachers seeking assistance with getting Family Message Journals started should consult the ReadWriteThink lesson Launching Family Message Journals.

  • Back-up people to reply if a child's family members don't. (The letter and pressure from children make this a rare occurrence but there are always one or two families who cannot reply regularly. In this case, a student teacher in the school, a special-subject teacher, the principal, or librarian are good options.)



  • Choose the activities or experiences about which children will write their three messages, each with a different function. These could grow from your curriculum and can relate to any school activity or experience, such as a book read aloud, a science inquiry, a social studies lesson, a school assembly, a field trip, a celebration, making new friends, an assigned homework project, or any other topic drawing on school experiences. One message could focus on a lesson encouraging certain behaviors by families (e.g., wearing seatbelts, washing hands, or recycling). The second message could focus on children getting something they want related to a school activity (e.g., a study of common pets or an assembly advertising the school play). The third message could focus on getting help with solving a problem related to a topic of study (e.g., finding information about owls or solving problems with friends).

  • Prepare and photocopy the Family Letter if it has not been used in an earlier lesson. Have it translated into families' home languages as necessary.

  • Test the Persuasion Map on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • use writing as a form of daily communication with families for several different purposes: to shape families' behavior, to get what they want, and to get help in figuring something out.

  • demonstrate (through eagerness to write, discussion after writing, and sharing of family replies) awareness of the many personal benefits and uses of writing.

  • through the form and content of their successive messages, demonstrate a growing understanding of the need to write clearly, legibly, and persuasively for readers.

Session One

  1. This lesson assumes that students have been introduced to writing in their Family Message Journals and have written at least a couple messages already. Explain to students that today they are going to write a message to explain to their families how important it is to recycle. They will need to think about everything they've learned about recycling and convince their families to do so (or to try new ways of recycling if they already recycle certain items). Any health, safety, or environmental topic you've studied works well for this message.

  2. Remind students of any fiction and nonfiction books you have read as part of the recycling unit (in this example) and of other activities, such as monitoring garbage accumulation in the lunchroom. For a few minutes engage students in large-group brainstorming of everything they can remember about recycling and why it's important. They need to think about what will convince their families to recycle or to expand their current efforts. Discuss reasons that might be persuasive. Remind children that their families will be reading the messages; the children's job is to make their families do what the message says. Since their families were not here in the classroom for the unit, the children are the experts and must make their families understand the importance and benefits of recycling. They will know the message worked when families' replies indicate the intent to do as the child suggested.

  3. As students begin their messages, remind them to put the date and greeting in the correct places. They might want to select an attention-getting greeting such as "Recycle Mom and Dad!" In any case, they should make sure their message topic is clear at the beginning so their families understand what they are writing about and what they want. For example, they might want to write "We learned all about recycling. We should recycle more." or "It is very important to recycle at home. Here are some things we could do in our house."

  4. As children write their messages, notice what they are doing and share it as appropriate. For example, "I notice that Lia wrote ‘Recycling will keep the earth clean for when I'm a grown up. I don't want to live in a polluted world.' I like the way she explained why it's so important to recycle and how it will affect her family. That will help to convince her family to recycle." For spelling, remind children to listen for the sounds they want to write and spell it as best they can. Because children can read the messages to their families at home, or tell them what the messages are about, it is okay if the spellings are not clear to families. Children will learn from this that they need to work at spelling, but they will still be able to share their messages and get response. (The Family Letter, if not used in an earlier lesson, explains Family Message Journals and families' expected roles. For children whose home language is not English, they may write in English and tell their families what it says, or they may write in their home language if that seems most appropriate. Families may reply in the home language if that is most comfortable and children can understand it.) PBS Parent Page describes natural writing development and can be a useful source for families to help them appreciate children's invented spelling and writing progress.

  5. As children announce they are finished, ask if there's anything they can add. Challenge each one to reread what they've written and think of at least one more reason to recycle that will persuade their families, or just one more way to recycle (e.g., re-use the backs of school papers). Finally, invite children to illustrate their messages. Often children's ideas are communicated through drawing and drawing may spark ideas for additions to the written message. After illustrating, engage children in a brief discussion of how writing can help them persuade people do something.

Session Two

  1. At the beginning of the next session tell children that they will be writing a message that will help them get something they want for themselves. Tell them they can select any animal the class has learned about in the unit on pets (in this example). They will write a message to their families, based on what they've learned about the animal, to persuade the family to get the pet.

  2. Start with the reminder of where to place the date and greeting and where to begin the message. Then tell children they should think about getting families' attention and convincing them to get the desired pet. They might begin with "Meow Family!" or a similar attention-getting greeting. They will need to write reasons why the pet should be acquired, as well as how possible objections might be answered. For example, "If you know your family will be worried about a kitten messing up the apartment, be sure to write how you will try to keep that from happening. In order to persuade your family to get the pet you want you have to convince them that the things they worry about won't happen. Or, if you have allergies choose a pet that won't make you feel sick and tell your family why this is a good choice." Ask children as a group to brainstorm ideas for their letters. Then have them begin writing.

  3. Circulate to provide support, share suggestions, and recognize what children are doing that others might want to try (e.g., citing reasons why the pet would be beneficial for the entire family or printing neatly so the message is legible).

  4. Have the class illustrate their writing.

  5. When the messages and illustrations are complete, engage the children in a brief discussion of how writing can help them get what they want. They can use writing this way all the time: grown ups usually pay more attention to a well-thought-out request made in writing than they do to just asking or begging. Ask students what else they might try to get by writing messages.

  6. The following day ask children to share the results of their messages. Did their families find the messages persuasive? How do they know?

Session Three

  1. At the beginning of Session Three tell children they will write their messages that day to get help with something. Remind them that you have been talking about and reading books about being friends (in this example). You have found that friends can be wonderful but there can also be problems with friends. "Families might be able to help us solve our problems with friends. They might have some good advice for us if we ask them."

  2. Ask children to brainstorm problems that may occur between friends (e.g., they are mean to you sometimes, they refuse to play what you want to play, they distract you during work time). Tell children they will write a message that identifies a problem with friends and asks for help in solving it. For example, "Sometimes I feel bad when Sandra plays with someone else. I don't know what to do. If I ask her to play with me she says ‘No.' What can I do?"

  3. Then tell the students to begin their messages, remembering date, attention-getting greeting (e.g., "Help Grandma"), and an opening that tells families what the message is about. Explain that the messages should tell their families exactly what they need help with. Remind children to ASK for help in their messages so that families know what they need.

  4. Again circulate as they write to encourage and share what they are doing. Then have the students follow writing with illustration.

  5. The following day it is helpful to have children share their messages and family replies so the class can begin to appreciate all of the problem-solving ideas the messages elicited. Briefly discuss how writing can be used to get help with many problems.


For a more structured exploration of persuasion, use the Persuasion Map to demonstrate the ways to gather supporting details for a persuasive message.

Student Assessment / Reflections

  1. Observe as students compose: What are they struggling with? What is getting easier? Are they using suggestions from you and other students? Are they excited about writing messages and sharing family replies?

  2. During discussions, or one-on-one while writing, are students able to articulate how writing can help them influence others and get what they want? If not, that does not necessarily mean they aren’t beginning to appreciate these purposes. Do they, at other times, ask to write to persuade others of something, to influence others’ behavior, or to get help with a problem? Are they proud of their power as writers to shape what happens?

  3. Review student journals regularly looking for knowledge of:

    • appropriate and sufficient content for a message (e.g., enough information, detail, and explanation; persuasive techniques such as getting readers’ attention and addressing possible objections)

    • text-level conventions (e.g., letter format, style appropriate to topic)

    • sentence-level conventions (e.g., punctuation, grammar)

    • word-level conventions (e.g., spelling)

    • topic studied or activity experienced
  4. Keep anecdotal notes about your observations and review of journals. Save a photocopy of a sample journal entry every two to four weeks to use for comparison and evidence of growth or need for instructional support.

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