The act of persuasion starts at an early age.  Think about when the tiny puppy dog eyes glare up and comment, “Maybe a little candy?”  Certainly, this child is using persuasion to try to get what they desire.

Teaching students to channel their opinions and ideas into persuasive writing is another important type of writing.  Persuasive writing is simply when an author explores his or her opinion and supports it using a variety of details.

Persuasive Topics:

The task of writing a great persuasive letter begins with a topic that the author feels strongly about.  For example, if you require that students write about a topic that they are unfamiliar (and thus have no opinion on), the finished product will not produce proficient results.

When beginning a persuasive writing unit, try to find a topic that all students can feel passionate about.  For example, if students are specifically technologically savvy, consider having them write a letter to school administration about the pros or cons of electronic devices in the classroom.  By building a thematic unit of study around this topic, students will be able to participate in active discussion, but the topic will not feel forced, since all students can relate.  Other potential topics for a persuasive writing unit could include:  school uniforms, four-day school weeks, or a year-round academic calendar.  As previously stated, these topics work well for an entire class because these are items of discussion that all students will have knowledge and opinions about.

Topics that will be less inclusive of the entire school population include:  abortion laws, Barbie as a bad role model, the need for a motorcycle safety helmet law, and baseball players should not have to play minor league before going professional.

Does that mean that you should prohibit your students from exploring these topics?  Certainly not!  What it does mean is that students will have to be shown how to adequately research their topics and find appropriate sources.

One of the major benefits of exploring one topic for the entire class is that many of the resources can be found by the teacher in advance.  This is particularly useful for a younger age group.  Let’s consider if students were writing about the use of cell phones in classrooms.  The teacher could have already found articles that promote their use and placed them in a resource folder for referencing during class time.  Additionally, the teacher could have articles that show why cell phones in classrooms are not beneficial; these could be placed in a separate folder.  A third folder might include articles that discuss both sides of the cell phone debate.  By reading some of these articles in class, students will be able to explore both sides, rather than just going with their “gut instinct” what seems to be the most logical opinion.  Deeper exploration of the topic will lead to more insightful reflection during the actual writing.

Let the Writing Process begin:

After the students have selected a topic to write about, they are ready to begin the brainstorming/ prewriting stage in the Writing Process.  This stage will likely take much longer than it would in narrative or informational writing.  Why?  The biggest reason is contingent on the amount of research that students must do.

Persuasive writing requires that students have a substantial amount of facts, statistics, and other supporting details to validate their opinion.  Younger students will want to think about three main reasons to support their opinion.  Each of those main ideas will need to be broken down into a minimum of three supporting details.  Note that the student’s opinion will be the broadest.  The three main ideas will be a little more specific, and the supporting details that support each main idea will be the most specific.  The following diagrams show the progression of development and how a sample graphic organizer might look:

persuasive_writing_progression_development

Note that the supporting details are at the smallest point in the triangle because they are the most specific.  The opinion is at the broadest section of the triangle because it is the broadest, vaguest. 

SAMPLE GRAPHIC ORGANIZER (no counter argument): 

Student’s opinion: 
Main idea 1: Supporting details for main idea 1:1.

2.

3.

 

Main idea 2: Supporting details for main idea 2:1.

2.

3.

 

Main idea 3: Supporting details for main idea 3:1.

2.

3.

 

Teachers may want to challenge older students by encouraging them to expand their research to include more than three main ideas that support their opinion.  Furthermore, it may be beneficial for students to transfer from simply persuasive writing to argumentative writing, by exploring the counter arguments of others.  By exploring counter arguments, the author will explore what arguments the opposing side might express and they can offer a rebuttal of sorts.  A graphic organizer that includes brainstorming/ prewriting will counter arguments might look like this:

SAMPLE GRAPHIC ORGANIZER (counter argument included): 

Student’s opinion: 

Counter argument:

Main idea 1: Supporting details for main idea 1:1.

2.

3.

 

What will the opposing side say? 

 

 

 

What can you reply to them?

 

 

 

 

Main idea 2: Supporting details for main idea 2:1.

2.

3.

 

What will the opposing side say? 

 

 

 

What can you reply to them?

 

 

 

 

Main idea 3: Supporting details for main idea 3:1.

2.

3.

 

What will the opposing side say? 

 

 

 

What can you reply to them?

 

 

 

 

 

What is a persuasive letter?

A persuasive letter is written in business letter format to formally express the author’s opinion on a particular subject of interest.  The business letter format should be briefly taught prior to the drafting stage of the Writing Process.

A business letter has six main parts:

  1. Heading – this includes the author’s address and the current date.
  2. Inside address – this includes the recipient’s name, title, business, and address.
  3. Greeting – a formal greeting such as Dear Mr. Vonivich:  (note this is followed by a colon).
  4. Body – an introduction, body, and conclusion (a minimum of three paragraphs)
  5. Closing – an appropriate closing such as Sincerely, (note this is followed by a comma).
  6. Signature – the author’s typed name with space left between the closing and typed name for a real signature

 

After students understand the parts of a business letter, they are ready to begin drafting.

Drafting a persuasive letter:

As students draft their persuasive letters, they will need to consider their audience.  I always emphasize to my students that if the person does not have the potential to create change, they are not an appropriate audience.  Consider the issue of cell phones in classrooms, writing to a classroom teacher will likely produce little change because such a decision is out of the teacher’s power.  Appropriate audiences might include a school principal, superintendent, or Board of Education.

The introduction:

Once the student has selected their audience, they will want to begin by setting up their rough draft with a heading, inside address, and greeting.  The introduction is the author’s opportunity to hook their reader.  Try to find a common ground and a way to make the reader relate to your concern.  Additionally, make sure that your opinion is clearly stated.  Also try to combine to the main ideas that will be discussed the body into a thesis statement.  Although the word thesis statement can be somewhat intimidating, students can create a nice focus for their entire letter by composing a sentence that does the following:

Student’s opinion + main idea 1 + main idea 2 + main idea 3 = thesis statement

The body:

                The body paragraph of the persuasive letter should continue to build on the author’s opinion.  These paragraphs should be organized to include at least one paragraph from each main idea.  If the student has three main ideas that support their opinion, they will need a minimum of three body paragraphs.  If they are attempting to include a counter argument, this could easily require an additional body paragraph.

Throughout the body paragraphs, it is very important that the author  re-emphasize their reason for writing nor should they lose sight of their audience.  Audience awareness is very important in persuasive writing because if the reader does not feel connected to the argument, they are likely to take any action.

The conclusion:

By the time, the author reaches the conclusion; they should be done offering evidence and ready to summarize their main points.  The conclusion is NOT the place for new facts or other types of supporting details.  This final paragraph is a chance to restate your opinion, offer a proposed plan of action, and encourage your audience to consider your ideas.

Most students enjoy the task of writing persuasive letters if they feel that they are writing about authentic topics that can produce change.  It is important to consider this prior to begin any persuasive writing unit.

Persuasive Writing