“You have been given the opportunity to choose two after-school activities per week. Think about what you would enjoy doing during this time. Write an essay explaining what two activities you would choose. Include reasons which support your choices.”
We begin to teach students the writing process through the genre of opinion writing, using prompts such as the one above. Through the use of opinion writing, students learn the writing process – gathering ideas, planning, and writing a rough draft. Prompts which focus on opinion writing provide students the advantage of knowing the topic. They do not need to gather information about the content of their writing, as opinion writing can focus on personal preferences or favorites.
However, we do not want to stay with these limited topics. Opinion writing is so much more than simply writing about a favorite restaurant or TV show. How can we expand this writing genre to include both curricular areas and responding to texts?
One suggestion is to consider curricular areas. What is happening in the classroom that can be expanded to writing? Here are some examples:
After a unit on Space:
You have been invited to participate in a two-year space mission. During that time, you will travel throughout space without returning to earth. Write an essay explaining whether or not you would choose to take part in the mission. Include three reasons why you would accept the position or three reasons why you would decline the invitation.
Or. . .
After completing our unit on space, think about what you have learned about each planet. Choose the planet you find most interesting and write a letter to a friend describing what they would see if they were to visit this planet. Make sure you use evidence from the texts to support your response.
After a field trip:
The Third Grade just completed our first field trip to the City Council as part of our unit on local government. Would you recommend that next year’s teachers take their students on the same field trip? Write an essay which explains your thoughts on the field trip. Include two reasons why you think the trip is valuable or two reasons why you would not recommend repeating the trip.
After a read-aloud:
Our first read-aloud this year was because of mr. terupt. I am deciding whether or not to begin next year reading the same novel aloud. Do you think this is a good choice to begin the year? Write an essay explaining whether or not you believe this is a good selection for next year. Include two reasons to support your opinion.
As a classroom community:
As 6th graders, the freedoms and choices you have at school are increasing. Write an essay explaining to your teacher two choices you would like to be able to make in your classroom. Be sure to give reasons to support your choices.
Although many primary students are not yet planning, teachers can still introduce the concept of prompts and planning to young students. As you experience concepts with students, be thinking of ways to introduce students to planning. Create a chart with students, listing the topic and big ideas on the left side. Fill the t-chart in together, adding details to the right side of the chart.
We have been working and learning all semester. We will celebrate our accomplishments with a party. Think about activities you enjoy participating in at a party. What three activities do you believe we should definitely include at our celebration?
We have been learning about people who help our community. We can invite one community helper to visit our classroom. Using the information we have learned, think about whether you would like to learn more about firefighters or police officers. Together, we will make two t-charts. The first chart will list three reasons you would like to invite a firefighter to visit our classroom and the second chart will list three reasons you would like to invite a police officer.
We have been learning about three different habitats: the ocean, the jungle, and the desert. As a table group, choose one habitat you would like to visit. Using what you have learned, think of reasons why this habitat is unique and interesting. Together we will make a chart organizing reasons why people might travel to each habitat.
Or . . .
We have been learning about habitats. We have just completed a book on jaguars. Using what you have learned, which habitat do you believe would be the best place for a jaguar to live? Give reasons to support your answer.
Applying Opinion Writing To Responding to Text
Students are now ready to write an opinion paragraph in response to text. The skills needed to write the paragraph are the same, but students will need instruction on using those skills in forming an opinion in response to text.
1.) Choose a topic which relates to either content area curriculum or a shared classroom experience. Write a prompt which clearly addresses the topic and format you want students to use.
A class of third graders was ready to write an opinion paragraph in response to text. They had been studying local government in Social Studies and taking care of the earth in Science. The teacher combined these two curricular areas with the following prompt:
Read the article on recycling. Write an opinion paragraph stating whether or not you think recycling should be mandatory in our city. Be sure to include three reasons that support your opinion using information from the text.
2.) Choose a text which is easily accessible to the majority of your class.
Provide students with text which is easy to comprehend. The focus for this lesson should be learning how to respond to text, not how to read a difficult text.
3.) Teach note-taking skills
Instruct students in specific note-taking skills. If students are being asked to respond to a text, they need strategies for locating the required information.
4.) Model planning with students
Students need to know that the skills they learned and used for writing an opinion paragraph are the same skills they use to write an opinion paragraph in response to text. Their opinion will be based on the information they have read in the text. The teacher will model taking the information found in the text and placing it in a t-chart plan.
5.) Go slow to go fast
As you write the first paragraph together as a class, encourage students to share their writing as they complete each step of the writing process. This helps ensure the students are on the correct path.
Opinion writing can be so much more than writing about “favorites.” Continually look for opportunities to encourage students to express their opinions in writing.
We love to talk writing with teachers. Please let us know if we can be of service to you in any way.