How do you help elementary students solidify their knowledge of how to write an opinion piece? While you go through an opinion writing unit, there are a few classroom strategies teachers can use to deepen students’ understanding and help them write well organized opinion paragraphs and essays.
This blog post is a part of a series of content all about Opinion Writing. Here are other posts that you can use to teach opinion writing in your classroom.
Focus on the Components of Opinion Writing
While you have taught about each part of opinion writing, focus students attention on WHY they should use each component. Have them articulate the importance of each component. Ask them questions about the actual framework and purpose of it, when to use it, and some sample sentence frames that could be used to talk or write about that component. Have students not only state an introduction, but tell WHY they need an introduction.
Use real-world examples
Using Opinion read alouds, kid-appropriate news articles, and student samples, see if students can identify the opinion being stated and the components of opinion writing.
Create an anchor chart to record the components of opinion writing and help students see similarities and differences between different examples. As you explore texts, books and examples of opinion writing, record how the piece of writing or activity demonstrated that component. Record the title of the book, but also record HOW the book demonstrated that specific component.
Likewise, use a rubric to evaluate the effectiveness of the writing in these real-world examples. If you don’t have a rubric available consider having students group and rank the examples. Do this exercise in small groups then have two groups get together to explain their reasoning.
Use Student Samples of Opinion Writing
The first year, consider using the current year’s student samples. Remove the name or consider retyping the sample to add even more anonymity. Another idea is to exchange papers with a teacher. If you do this, remember to remove student names.
Keep copies of the samples every year. Add to your collection year after year and have students go through the samples to identify the opinion writing components. After you have at least a year’s worth of student samples, use a rubric or have students rank the samples.
The end of my 7 Ways to Introduce Opinion Writing has even more ideas for where to find opinion writing examples.
Use Cooperative Learning Strategies for Opinion Writing.
Cooperative learning strategies are some of the best ways you can help students articulate their learning. Talking about and working with other students on new learning moves the concepts through different parts of the brain. As students work with opinion text and writing, have them talk with a partner or write with a parter.
There are several layers of cooperative learning strategies that can be used for opinion writing.
Whole Group Cooperative Learning Routines
As I teach new sentence frames and vocabulary I often use a call / response routine. I’ll read a word or sentence frame and then prompt students to orally repeat the word or sentence frame.
Along the same line, I’ll use a turn to your partner and say routine. This is almost like a call and response, but instead of facing forward and talking to me, they turn to a partner and repeat the vocabulary word or sentence. This gives students two more opportunities for structured talk.
Partner to Partner Cooperative Learning Routines
There are several cooperative partner learning strategies I love to use in my classroom. If we’re doing a whole group lesson and I need students to quickly practice, I’ll have them do a think-pair-share routine.
A more complicated routine which we include in our Opinion Writing Unit is a Hand-Up Pair-Up routine. The way I use this for opinion writing is that I give half of the class a prompt and half of the class a set of sentence frames. Students find a parter with the opposite sheet of paper. One student reads the prompt and the other student uses the sentence frame to respond. Students trade papers and find a new partner. You can structure this cooperative learning routine by asking students to not move to a new partner until they hear a signal.
One more routine that I love using is Inside-Outside Circle. This one requires a bit more set up. I use two colored rolls of duct tape (say green and pink). I tear a 4 inch strip of one color and place it on the ground. I do that for half of my students using one color and make a rough circle in my classroom. I do the same thing for the second circle and place it opposite the first circle inside or outside of it. I number the pieces of duct tape so that 1 green and 1 pink are facing each other.
I assign students a place to stand based on number and color. We move through the same routine as Hand-Up Pair-Up where some students have a prompt and others have a sentence frame. After talking students trade papers. One side of the circle stays in place and the other side moves one direction.
Lines of Communication Works similarly to Inside-Outside Circle, but students are standing in two lines vs. in a circle.
At the beginning of the school year, I put down tape on my floor for both cooperative learning routines so I can use them though out the first few weeks of school. We use them with basic questions and answers. The goal is that students learn the routine and can successfully move through the classroom space.
Small Group Cooperative Learning Routines
Before we transition to small group routines, I make sure that students have had plenty of partner practice. Partner practice is more structured and I can easily check in with each pair of students. In small groups, even if you set up a structured routine, some students will be more talkative than others. It’s just the nature of having more than two students in a group.
I tend to use board games for small groups. This gives just enough structure. For the Opinion Writing Unit, I use the same board game and prompts but switch out the sentence frames for each focus.
Take it to Writing
Each of these can also have written components as well as oral language development. The partner strategies are the easiest to take it to writing. One way to do this is to trade papers or have students walk to other students’ desks. This routine is similar to others in the blog post 80 Sponge Activities.
Start with a blank piece of paper. Give each student a different topic. Have the students write the introductory statement.
Have students move to the next piece of paper or have students trade papers. Then have students read the topic and introductory statement. Ask students to write an opinion. Repeat the movement and writing of each sentence until the opinion paragraph is written. Share out a few of the examples.
To take a it a step further, give students a rubric or checklist (a checklist is include in the Opinion Unit) and have students evaluate the paragraph. Have students refise the opinion paragraph into a more polished piece of writing. While the entire piece is not the student’s original work, the process of rewriting, revising, and editing can help students solidify and deepen their understanding of each component of opinion writing.
Weave opinion writing into other content areas and throughout your curriculum
Opinions aren’t just for writing time! Definitely teach the academic language of opinion writing first. After students have a solid understanding of the process, require the academic language throughout your content areas.
Here are a few content area ideas where you can teach and practice opinion writing:
- As you engage in a read aloud, ask questions that prompt an opinion statement and require students to use a sentence frame and give reasons. This is an ELA standard for second grade and above. Students at different grade levels are required to support their opinions using a variety of strategies.
- As students solve a problem in math, have them use academic language to explain why they think their math strategy is the most effective or efficient strategy for that problem.
- Do you use Project Based Learning activities? They are very conducive to opinion writing. Have students use opinion strategies during a PBL activity to explain their reasoning about a solution.
- As students learn about pollution, solutions to natural disasters, or other science topics, have them state their opinions and support them with reasons.
- In social studies, analyze the activities of people or historical events and determine whether the actions were justified or whether different actions could have created a different outcome.
There are many ways to deepen students’ ability to write opinion paragraphs and essays. Your opinion writing unit may be for a set time, but you can continue the process of writing opinions throughout the school year.
Opinion Writing Unit
Are you interested an Opinion Writing Unit that develops students’ academic language through engaging games and activities? Here’s a blog post all about it.
More Opinion Writing Blog Posts
Would you like to read more about how to teach opinion writing in the classroom? Take a look at these blog posts.