About this Strategy Guide
This strategy guide focuses on persuasive writing and offers specific methods on how you can help your students use it to improve their critical writing and thinking skills.
Students often score poorly on persuasive writing assessments because they have no authentic audience or purpose; thus their counterarguments and rebuttals are weak. However, if they see writing as personally meaningful and a useful way to express their needs and desires, they will want to improve their skills in writing style, content, spelling, and other mechanics.
Research shows that young children are capable of anticipating their readers’ beliefs and expectations when writing for familiar readers to get something they want and when prompted to think about their audience’s perspective while writing.1 Teachers can also guide students to analyze examples of persuasive writing and understand the author’s purpose.
Before writing a persuasive piece, students should understand how persuasion is used orally in everyday life by practicing making short, convincing speeches about something that’s important to them.2
1Wollman-Bonilla, J. (2000). Family message journals: Teaching writing through family involvement. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
2Wollman-Bonilla, J. (2000). Family message journals: Teaching writing through family involvement. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.
Strategy in Practice
Here are some ways you can help your students master persuasive writing:
- Have students listen to and analyze various persuasive speeches and writings in the media (e.g., newspapers, magazines, television, and the Internet), looking for words, phrases, and techniques (e.g., reasons, repetition, counterarguments, comparisons) that are designed to persuade. This improves critical reading and thinking skills. The Persuasive Strategies PowerPoint offers some of the more common techniques.
- Break down the elements of a persuasive speech or piece of writing: an introduction that states the position clearly, at least three pieces of evidence to support the position, and a conclusion that restates the topic and summarizes the main points. The interactive Persuasion Map provides a framework to help students organize their ideas before writing.
- Challenge students to address what people currently believe about the issue so that they can convince them to change through counterarguments. Have them interview 5–10 people (with varying perspectives) about their current beliefs on an issue and create a graph to see patterns in people’s arguments. Students can mention these different beliefs toward the beginning of their writing piece before they make their own argument.
- Find authentic opportunities for students to write persuasive letters to family or community, speeches, classified advertisements, and other persuasive pieces. After a unit on recycling, for example, students could write a persuasive letter to their families to convince them to recycle more. Or students might write to their school librarian and try to convince him or her to purchase something in particular for the library. The Speechwriting Website offers a student tutorial, tips from the pros, and audio samples of other students’ writing.
- Incorporate peer review techniques so students analyze and improve each other’s persuasive arguments (oral or written). See Teaching Writing: Peer Review for further guidance. Use the Peer Review Guidelines for Persuasive Letters to guide students’ review of persuasive letters.
- Challenge students to differentiate fact and opinion from an article. Start by discussing short examples to see if students understand the difference. Use the Fact vs. Opinion handout from Education Oasis to reinforce this concept.
- Show students examples of how community discussion on an issue can lead to alternative positions that take different people’s needs into account, perhaps by looking in the editorial section of the local newspaper. Issues such as adding bike paths or improving parks might be interesting for the students to follow. You might encourage them to participate by having them write a letter to the editor.
- Encourage students to participate in online role-play, respond to YouTube videos or blogs, or create their own websites as ways for students to debate a real issue with a broader audience.
Vary the types of assignments you give to meet the different learning needs, styles, and interests of your students. If students sense that voicing their opinions may lead to change, it can motivate them to formulate effective arguments for their positions and propose possible solutions.