elementary teachinging writ

Opinion Writing - More than just "Favorites"

“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.

Primary Classrooms

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.

Student Community

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?

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Social Studies

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.

Science

 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. 


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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.

 

             

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does Any Topic Sentence Work?

We are continuing to focus on informational writing in our classroom.  In order to give this writing context, we have been combining it with our History unit on Trappers and Traders.  We have used this content to review different non-fiction text structures and identify prompts which required us to respond in a specific text structure.  www.writenow-rightnow.com/blog/2018/informational-writing-text-structures-and-prompts-1  As we began to respond to the prompts, students were working to write appropriate topic sentences for each text structure.  This led to a discussion in our classroom – “Does every type of topic sentence work for every type of writing?”

Using the prompts from our study of text structures, we began to experiment with different topic sentence types.  I wanted the students to have a bank of topic sentences they could draw on when asked to write to a variety of informative writing prompts.  As we experimented and wrote informational essays, we collected topic sentences which worked well with each type of text structure.

Compare and Contrast Topic Sentences

Prompt:  Both trappers and traders were involved with trapping beavers.  Write an essay explaining two similarities between these people and two ways their lifestyles were different from one another.

“Just Say It” Topic Sentence

The trappers and traders who worked in the Colorado Territory had both similarities and differences in their lifestyles.

“When” Topic Sentence

When studying the trappers and traders of the early Colorado Territory, historians have found both similarities and differences between these two groups.

“Number Topic” Sentence

The trappers and traders who traveled to the Colorado Territory have many similarities and differences.

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Cause and Effect Topic Sentences

Prompt: Trappers came to the Colorado Territory in the early 1800’s. Write an informative essay explaining a positive and negative effect on the environment due to the arrival of the trappers.

“Just Say It” Topic Sentence

The trappers who came to the Colorado Territory had both a positive and negative impact on the natural environment.

“When” Topic Sentence

When the trappers arrived in the Colorado Territory, they had a positive and negative impact on the region’s environment.

“As” Topic Sentence

As historians study the history of Colorado, they have identified both the positive and negative effects on the environment caused by the arrival of the trappers.

 

Description Topic Sentences

Prompt: Trappers had a very distinctive appearance. Write an essay describing the unique clothing of these men.

Just Say It” Topic Sentence:

Trappers were easy to identify by their distinctive clothing choices.

“If” Topic Sentence

If spotted on the trail, an early beaver trapper was easy to identify by his clothing and appearance.

“Number” Topic Sentence

The requirements of living outdoors in rugged conditions led trappers to make many unique clothing choices.

 

Problem and Solution Topic Sentences

Prompt:  Once trappers had gathered beaver pelts, they needed a place to gather to trade. Write an essay explaining how trappers solved the problem of trading with others.

“Just Say It” Topic Sentence:

Determining a way to trade with others was a problem faced by many trappers.

As” Topic Sentence:

As trappers gathered their bounty of beaver skins, they were faced with a problem.  How could they sell their pelts and purchase items they needed for survival?

When” Topic Sentence:

When the beaver trapping season was completed, the trappers were faced with a dilemma.  How could they now trade their pelts and purchase supplies?

Question” Topic Sentence:

“Now that I have trapped these beavers and collected their pelts, how can I exchange this for needed money and supplies?”  This was a question posed by many trappers at the end of the trapping season.

 

Sequential Order Topic Sentences

Prompt: Trappers had to devise the best ways to trap beavers without harming the fur. Write an informative paragraph explaining the steps a trapper followed to capture a beaver.

 

“Just Say It” Topic Sentence:

In order to trap a beaver, the mountain man had to follow specific steps.

“Number” Topic Sentence:

Three steps must be followed in order to successfully trap beavers.

“If – Then” Topic Sentence:

If a mountain man wanted to be a successful beaver trapper, then he must follow specific steps in the correct order.

“As” Topic Sentence:

As men traveled to the Colorado Territory to trap beavers, they quickly learned the steps required to capture these animals.

Through our work with informational text, we have discovered that some types of topic sentences work best with certain text structures.  We have also learned a lot about the lives of the early trappers and traders!  Our fourth-grade writers have gained another tool they can use when writing informational text to a variety of prompts.

 

“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” E.L. Doctorow

For the first few weeks of school, we have been concentrating on the components of opinion paragraphs.  My students have learned to gather and categorize ideas, organize plans and write opinion paragraphs which included all the essential parts.  Now that students understood how to effectively write about their opinion, it was time to take the next step: writing opinion paragraphs in response to text.

I wanted the content to be accessible and engaging for all the students. To facilitate that goal, I decided to have students read about a topic which they would easily grasp – choosing a local attraction to take guests to visit.  We began with the following prompt:

Students highlighted the format, topic and big ideas in their prompt.

Students highlighted the format, topic and big ideas in their prompt.

You have friends travelling to Colorado Springs on vacation. You are responsible for choosing one place to take your friends to show them the sights. To help make your decision, you will choose and research an attraction in Colorado Springs to visit. After making your choice, write an opinion essay explaining the attraction you have chosen to visit. You must include three reasons why this attraction is the best location to take your friends.

The focus of this learning engagement was for students to write in response to text. With that in mind, I chose two websites for the students to use as research. The websites contained information about the local attractions using words and pictures. We discussed possible factors we might use when choosing a place to visit. Suggestions such as price, discounts, activities, food options, uniqueness to the area and being family friendly were all given.

Students were assigned the websites through their google classroom accounts. After previewing the possible choices, we selected five attractions to focus on as a class. Students then selected the attraction in which they were most interested and researched the appropriate site. Wanting the information to be accessible to all students regardless of reading ability, I wanted students to share the information they had learned. I provided students chart paper labeled with each attraction. As a group, students discussed and recorded the information they had found concerning each place to visit.

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On the following day, students were asked to create their individual writing plans. Reviewing the prompt, we remembered that our writing required three big ideas. Using the chart paper, students looked for similar ideas to classify together. As they had spent time gathering and discussing ideas, the planning came easily.

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With completed plans in hand, the students eagerly began to write. Many chose to begin their paragraphs with an “Although” topic sentence, acknowledging that other activity choices would also be enjoyable. They easily incorporated information they had learned from the text, the goal of the lesson.

The students’ engagement with their writing made it an appropriate piece to take all the way through publishing. With green and red pencils in hand, students edited their work, tracing all punctuation in red and all capitals in green. They typed their finished product, adding an image of the attraction to provide the reader with additional information.

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The transition to opinion writing based on text had gone seamlessly as we had the needed writing skills in place from previous lessons. The students had been interested in the topic, engaged in the research, and excited to edit their work and share it with each other!  We had definitely been exploring and learning.

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Would You Do It Again?

We just returned from a “bucket list” trip to China!  Our days were packed with sight-seeing, people-watching and eating new foods.  As we returned home and began to share our stories, we were asked two questions:

“What was your favorite part of the trip?”

“Would you do it again?”

First, our favorite parts.  Many of our favorite moments were the planned experiences.  Walking a section of the Great Wall without any other tourists was a highlight.  Visiting the Terra Cotta warriors and considering the ego of a leader who had them built so people would remember him was overwhelming.  Looking at the shattered pieces and realizing the patience needed to recreate these statues was humbling!  These experiences had been planned far in advance and lived up to our expectations.  There were also some spontaneous favorite moments.  Meeting a young local girl in line at Shanghai Disney and trying to communicate about Elsa from Frozen was an unplanned delight. Getting lost on a rainy night in Shanghai while searching for the second tallest building in the world is another unplanned, and now favorite, memory.

 

Would we do it again?  While we will choose other places in the world to visit before returning to China, I would certainly encourage others to take the trip!  I would also have ideas on “must see and do” places and experiences for those thinking of visiting China.

As the new school year creeps closer, I find myself reflecting on these same questions as I look back on the past school year. Having been away from school for a month helps me put the past year in better perspective.  I’ve been making a list of “favorite learning engagements” from last year and answering the question: Would you do it again?

Here’s a portion of my “things to do again next year” list . . .

·       Implement Writer’s Notebooks – a definite do again!  These notebooks are an invaluable organizational tool for both my students and me.  This year I plan to add an Anchor Chart section, where students can keep individual anchor charts for easy access after we have completed them together.

·       Expand Student Vocabulary, with a tweak – We have been collecting new vocabulary words in our Writer’s Notebooks, but I’m not sure that system is working as well as I had hoped.  The students have simply written the words as they found them, resulting in a disorganized list. Next year we are going to organize the words by topic.  For example, all the movement words will be collected together. We are also going to study words by word origin or roots, looking for commonalities. 

·       Focus on Academic Vocabulary – Next year I will continue to embed more academic vocabulary into student directions and writing prompts. The goal is for students to become used to deciphering and understanding directions prior to beginning a task. For this to be effective, my students will require explicit vocabulary instruction.  A great resource for teaching academic vocabulary is Teaching Academic Vocabulary K – 8: Effective Practices Across the Curriculum, by Blachowicz, Fisher, Ogle and Taff.    www.amazon.com/Teaching-Academic-Vocabulary-K-8-Curriculum/dp/1462510299

·       Read aloud every day – This is my favorite time of day with my students. In our high-tech days, it is so important to expose children to the joy of listening to an engaging book read aloud.

·       Look for areas to encourage student choice – Last year students loved choices, from where they sit to how they present their learning. Although I do not have the newest flexible seating furniture in my classrooms, I allow students the freedom to work in the area that is best for them. Instead of telling them that every assignment must be completed the same way, I’ve learned to present the students an expectation or rubric for an assignment and then allow them to choose the presentation method. The increased engagement and enthusiasm has been exciting to watch! Last year, a student asked if she could type her narrative into google slides, putting each portion of her story on a separate page. This idea spread throughout our classroom and greatly increased the students’ understanding of parts of a narrative.  Click on this link for past blogs on teaching narratives. writenow-rightnow.com/blog/2017/lets-write-a-story-part-one

·       Follow the spontaneous learning moments – Just like the spontaneous moments that happen when we travel, I look forward to those spontaneous learning moments in the classroom. We never know what comment or thought may turn into a learning moment. We all spend time creating lessons and are eager to share them with our students. It can be difficult to put those aside and spontaneously follow a student question or inquiry.  Yet, these unexpected paths can often become our favorite moment of the year! 

We would love to hear from you!  What items are on your list?  What was your favorite part of last year and what are you looking forward to doing again? What goals are you making right now to improve your learning environment?