Persuasive writing is something I have been teaching with varying success for years. It is also a major component of the new Common Core Standards that are gradually being implemented nationwide. At its very root, students understand persuasion only at a very basic level. It takes skilled instruction to make them effective.
When a child first learns the word no, and five minutes later adds a stamped foot for emphasis, it heralds the independent thinking of a new person. No is soon joined by Mine, but it’s not until I wanna springs forth that the seeds of persuasion are sown.
By the time students are in sixth grade, as mine are, they have learned that demanding what they want is not enough. Oh sure, it works for a few years, but no one gives in to a twelve year old with a pouty face saying, “But I want it.” They need to develop logical reasons to support someone giving them what they want, and here is where they fall short. Sixth graders have limited experience with logic.
Sixth graders know that if they want their parents to buy something for them, it has to be something that will help them in school or help their self esteem. They know if they want the school board to keep the school libraries open, the money will have to be found somewhere else. They know if they want to convince their teacher to give less homework, they need to show they can master the material without it. (See my post on Knowing Your Audience)
Those are all good ideas, but they all lack strength. They need E’s. From the Step Up to Writing! program that our school uses, the E’s provide the meat of any expository paragraph. Very catchy, that all nine start with the letter E. Even though some seem redundant, these are designed to help writers jog their brain for supporting statements. Here they are, with examples for the above arguments:
Example: The school board might consider cutting or reducing the music program in order to keep the library open.
Everyday occurrence: Soccer practice is important to my physical and emotional wellbeing, but homework often causes me to miss it.
Events: Our school could have a fundraiser each year to raise money for the library.
Evidence: When I can listen to music and relax, I do better on my schoolwork, so buy me an iPod.
Expert opinion: My teacher says that every student should have their own flash drive to store their written work.
Elaboration: We already do classwork to master the concept.
Experience: Especially in Social Studies, I never do the homework and I do fine on tests.
Effective illustration: In the silence of the library, I am able to think, to read, to complete my work.
Explanation: Everyone else has a plaid backpack, so if you want me to fit in and feel confident, I need one, too.
Of course, each paragraph needs more than one E, but this is a start. Students need to learn to think about their reasons and generate support for them. Only then will they write effective persuasive essays.
On my Kindle: Daughter of the Centaurs by Kate Klimo