Lee Hewes

is totes becoming a teacher…

Persuasive writing requires critical thinking. Model that.

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I’ve been pushing my year one students through a collaborative writing challenge for most of this year. It started off as the #20WC (20 word challenge), where they each had to write 20 words to a visual prompt posted to our class website. To begin with, all I asked of my students was that they merely described what they saw in the prompt. As we moved into term 2 and started looking at creative writing, I pushed them a little further and asked them to write little stories, and at this point it became the #30WC. At the moment we’ve got to the #50WC and we’re looking at constructing persuasive texts. Mainly because we hadn’t done this before and I knew that it would challenge them and make them think.

I guess that’s the operative clause – “make them think.”

The educational interwebz is awash with terms such as ’21st century learner’, ‘innovator’, ‘problem solver’ and ‘collaborator’, ‘critical and creative thinker’. Incidentally, they’re in the Australian Curriculum too.

Fantastic. But how do we model and teach these things?

I dunno. But this is how I tried to get my little  year one kiddiez thinking critically this term.

Wait, I just wanna say something first. For whatever reason, some might shy away from teaching persuasive writing to kids this age, and the syllabus requires only that they do this: 

plans, composes and reviews a small range of simple texts for a variety of purposes on familiar topics for known readers and viewers (EN1-2A)

this: 

identifies how language use in their own writing differs according to their purpose, audience and subject matter (EN1-7B)

or this: 

thinks imaginatively and creatively about familiar topics, ideas and texts when responding to and composing texts (EN1-10C)

However I know what my students are capable of and I’m a firm believer that if the syllabus is restrictive, we should teach to the child and not to the syllabus. 

Anywayz, back to my class. 

I used a visual prompt as I have been doing for most of the year, the one below from my recent trip to majestic Yosemite National Park. I freaking LOVE that place. I almost cried when I first entered a couple of years ago. 

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We discussed the picture at great length, using as many adjectives as we could muster up to describe the beauty in front of our eyes on the IWB – #Lulz. We spoke about how the air and water looked clean, the trees were lush and healthy, the mountain was beautiful, the stream looked inviting, the meadow would be awesome to play in. We discussed all of the animals that might live there, whether it snowed in the winter and many similar such things.  

Below the picture on our class website I entered the statement, “We must care for nature.”

I asked my students if they agreed, and why/why not?

I explained that persuasive writing has the purpose of trying to ‘change somebody’s mind’ or ‘convince them’ or to ‘make them believe’ something. 

Now, I’m not sure that I did this the right way around, but from here we looked at the Pigeon books by Mo Willems. If you’re a teacher of the early years and you don’t know about these books, I sincerely question where you have been hiding in the last several years. 

Anyway, the pigeon is a somewhat clumsy practitioner in the art of persuasion. He tries to get the reader to let him stay up late, drive a bus, buy him a puppy, and a range of other things by providing a whole swag of peculiar and amusing reasons.

We went back to the books in which he tries to get the reader to let him drive the bus and we pulled out the reasons he offered in his attempts at persuasion. We did the same with the ‘Pigeon wants a Puppy’ book. We then went back to the photo of Yosemite and produced some reasons, both ‘for’ and ‘against’ caring for nature. I reminded the class of The Lorax, another book that we LOVE. We spoke about what the world would be like if we didn’t look after all of the beautiful places in the world. 

We spoke about Thneeds and Gluppity-Glupp and Schloppity-Schlopp.

I then told them that it was their turn to persuade me that we either should, or should not care for for nature. All but one of the students chose the affirmative, the one who chose the negative ended up getting really confused and stressed out and it turns out he’ll be starting again, probably changing his position to make it easier on himself.

To give them some structure and something to aim for, I told them that they needed to give me 3 reasons to support their argument and wrote: 

I think [(or believe) that we (should or shouldn’t) care for nature]
(I actually only wrote ‘I think’)

1. 

2.

3.

on the whiteboard and I sent them off to get writing. 

Now of course, this wasn’t easy for them and, of course, I went around and helped all of my students as they crafted their works. For a couple of the students in my class I told them that they didn’t have to do this and that they could write whatever they wanted. However the rest worked really hard over the course of a few sessions this week and it was awesome to see them getting their heads around the form. 

One of my students has written her second draft and is up to the stage where she can type it on to her google presentation to share with our mates The Outback Turtles up in North Star and on the interwebz. This is what she has written. 

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Pretty fantastic for a 6 year old if you ask me. 

Now, the rest of my students are at various stages of crafting. Some have almost finished their drafts, some are going to go back and start from the beginning. I do know, however, that all of them will get this done and be well on their way to being masters of persuasion – muhahaha. 

We’re going to continue our journey as the term rolls out, and I can’t wait to see how their writing develops. I’m not going to model that they write it in any particular way, I’m going to model thinking critically about things and experimenting with the different ways we can get our point across. 

Below is another Mo Willems character, Amanda’s Alligator. He has his thinking cap on. K/1MEPS are gonna keep their critical thinking caps on at all times.

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I’ve no idea if this was the right way to go about it. 

I’ve no idea if I was ‘explicit’ enough – probably not.

All I know is that I’m extremely proud of the work that my students are doing, with the effort and enthusiasm they apply to their learning and that I think they should be extremely proud, too.

Screen Shot 2014-08-09 at 10.18.25 am

Final photo credit: from the Instagram account of the Buck Institute for Education. Word.

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2 thoughts on “Persuasive writing requires critical thinking. Model that.

  1. Well I am no expert either Lee but you certainly got me thinking – high expectations are so important in the classroom. Sometimes we are the only ones that hold students to those expectations and I believe in what you are doing. Keep going 🙂

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