Kids are natural-born persuaders. They do it all the time. The trick as a teacher is to take their set of cajoling skills and help them use their power for good. And by good, I mean to channel these skills into writing effective persuasive pieces.
So, what exactly do we need to do to teach persuasive writing? I won’t lie to you…it’s not an easy task, but I’ll try to break it down here and simplify the steps to hopefully make this something that you can use in your classroom.
1. Teach Paragraph Writing FIRST
Before I even begin to think about writing a persuasive piece, I make sure that my class has learned the basics of writing a good paragraph. We spend a lot of time with each component and after they’ve mastered one paragraph, we move on to the five-paragraph essay.
Since I teach 4th/5th, this is one of the standards we need to reach. Once I know the kids can write a reasonably good essay, then we can add the persuasive aspect a little more easily.
2. Use Mentor Texts to Teach Persuasive Writing
I am a big fan of mentor texts. I just love how picture books easily capture the attention of my “big” kids, while quickly teaching them so many lessons.
When I teach persuasive writing, I like to gather several of these persuasive mentor texts and share them with my class. We talk about how the character used persuasive techniques well, and how he/she didn’t.
3. Introduce Persuasive Writing Techniques
We have a really fun discussion about how advertisers try to persuade us to buy their products using a number of techniques, and how we might incorporate some of these same ideas into our writing.
We look at ads that I’ve selected on a PowerPoint that showcases each example. I use the EITHER OR acronym:
E – Everyone is doing this (Bandwagon)
I = Appeal to intellect (Intellect)
T = This is good for you or for someone you know (Beneficial)
H = This will bring you happiness (Happiness)
E = Every reasonable person would agree (Common Sense)
R = This is your right (Right)
O = Opinion of an expert (Expert)
R = This is your responsibility (Responsibility)
I have the kids write these in their Writer’s Notebooks as we discuss them and then send them home with a homework assignment (included in my persuasive writing unit) which asks them to select an ad from a magazine or online, to identify the persuasive techniques used, and to bring it in to share.
4. Practice Persuasive Techniques with Task Cards
These task cards are included in the Persuasive Writing Unit and can help reinforce every single concept you can think of. I feel so strongly about them that whenever I make a resource for my classroom, I almost always include some kind of task card to go with it. Kids love task cards and especially like to move around the room in pairs to solve them. They think of it as fun, but I know they’re learning as they go.
These persuasive strategies task cards are definitely tricky and will require lots of critical thinking skills, so it might be a wise idea to pair a stronger student with a weaker one.
Also, before the kids begin, it’s a good idea to point out that an advertising slogan might use more than one persuasive technique. For example, an ad for Disneyland might use Happiness as well as Bandwagon.
5. Work on Hooks
Now we spend some time focusing on how to start the essay. We start using a hook!
I like to describe a writing “hook” using a fishing analogy. The fisherman puts a nice pink, juicy worm on the hook, hoping to attract the attention of the fish. If the fish bites, the fisherman’s happy. If the fish doesn’t bite, that means that it wasn’t interested in the hook, and there won’t be any fish caught.
Our goal as a writer is to get the reader interested by “hooking” them into reading our essay, from the very first sentence.
We go over six different types of hooks and practice these. Then we practice writing hooks with topic sentences.
6. Practice Paragraph Star Ideas on Whiteboards
I can’t tell you how much I love using whiteboards in the classroom. I use them daily for math lessons, and use them off and on whenever I need the kids to practice a skill and want instant feedback and 100% participation (well, maybe not 100% but 99% is pretty close!).
I purchased mine at Home Depot (bought shower board for about $14 and they cut them into 12 x 12 inch squares for free for me). Whiteboards are great for writing lessons and I use them often when teaching paragraphing skills.
For this lesson, I give the kids a topic (school uniforms or treats at school or which season is the best, etc.) and then ask the kids to write three stars on their whiteboards. Next to each star, they write down a word to describe a reason they like/dislike this idea.
For example, if the topic was school uniforms, the child might write lack of individuality, gets boring, uncomfortable… I can quickly glance at their lists, while we discuss a few of them and then we’re on to the next topic.
Without writing a whole essay, this is teaching the kids to think about organization and how reasons help support their opinions. I think this kind of practice is great!
7. Share a Persuasive Essay Example
It’s one thing to talk about a persuasive essay’s components and to even practice them. It’s another thing to see a really good example of an essay and to get to go through it and to discuss what makes it work and why.
I have several great examples I’ve saved over the years (and have one I wrote about why cats are excellent pets that I included in my persuasive essay unit).
Additionally, I like to type these student essays examples to make them easier to read and then I project them on my smartboard for the kids to see. I also like to use “bad” examples, to show them some mistakes to avoid. I’m always careful to hide the names of the authors before I share them.
8. Make an Outline and an Essay as a Whole Class
Okay, here’s where your perseverance has to kick in.
Trying to complete an essay as a whole class will drive even the most saintly of teachers to want to pull their hair out at times but this hard part is crucial. There, I said it. It is that important, that this is a step you shouldn’t miss.
Here’s how I do it. I break it down into two or three days. The first day we create an outline together. I have the kids write this outline in their Writer’s Notebooks as a model to refer to when they need to make their own outline later. We always do school uniforms, because I find it to be a great topic and one that the kids feel strongly about.
I tell them for the sake of continuity, we need to take a stand as a class for the essay, whether they really agree with that stand or not. We take a class vote and then stick with it, whether it’s for or against the uniform idea.
On the second day, when we have the outline in place, I make a deal with the kids…I tell them if they stick with me and participate and don’t zone out…I’ll do the writing and they can just tell me what to write. If they don’t stay focused, then they’ll have to write it themselves. This works like magic. I’ve never had a class that lost out on this “deal.”
So, using yesterday’s outline, we to go step by step and write each paragraph together. Kids feed me sentences, which I try to use or gently guide them a bit where needed. Usually, we do 2 – 3 paragraphs in one day and the other 2 – 3 the next. Attention spans of 9 – 10 year olds can be a killer, so I find that breaking it into several days helps.
9. Go over Expectations Using a Rubric
I really like to use rubrics for a lot of assignments. It breaks down the activity into its components and it also serves as a road map for kids to know what is expected of them. I think the more we can explain to students exactly what we’re looking for, the more they can meet and sometimes exceed (hallelujah) our expectations.
There’s never a reason to hide what we want from kids, in my opinion. So, we go over the rubric and it’s a kind of review for all of the lessons leading up to this. I make sure it’s three-hole punched so they can store it in their binder, or you could make one to fit their Writer’s Notebook or Interactive Journal if you wish.
10. Practice Writing Persuasive Essays…Over and Over and…
Once your kids have gone through lots of lessons on persuasive writing, it’s their turn to write independently. I choose several different topics for them, over the next few weeks and we do about an essay a week in class. The kids get better as time goes by and usually, I let them choose a topic for the last essay. It’s interesting to see what they come up with (school appropriate, of course).
Whew…such a huge unit and so many skills to fit in but in my mind, it is an awesome unit. I love teaching it because of the great number of discussions it provides and because I see it as an important set of tools for them to have in their writing tool belt.
If you’d like some resources for persuasive writing, I love this unit I created. It’s a 52 page packet and comes with the task cards. I think it works well for 3rd – 6th grade.
What do you like to do for persuasive writing? Know any other good mentor texts to use? I’d love to hear from you!
Thanks for stopping by!