Opinion Essay For 4th Grade

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In my first year of teaching I was expected to use a writer’s workshop model where students almost always chose their own writing topics. This was before the Common Core standards and my district wasn’t very concerned about what genres students wrote in, as long as they wrote. I could definitely tell you that in my students’ opinion, professional wrestling was the best sport and puppies were the best pet.  I knew this because of the sheer volume of random writing I saw on these two topics, not because my students were skilled at writing opinion pieces.

***I made a chart of helpful sentence starters that’s perfect for writing folders. Get yours for free HERE!***

Things have changed and whether or not kids like it, opinion writing is now a staple genre in kindergarten through 5th grade. The good news is, teaching opinion writing doesn’t have to be like pulling teeth. Here are four opinion writing ideas that you can put in place right away:

Choose Topics That Fire Them Up!

When presenting topic choices for opinion writing, the key is to think about what gets kids fired up. What are they constantly complaining about? What makes them mad? What do they argue about? What do they annoyingly beg for? What are some things that affect them that they’ve never even thought of? Here’s a list of ideas to consider:

-How much homework should kids be given?
-What should the lunchroom offer that it doesn’t already?
-How much recess should kids have?
-Should kids wear school uniforms?
-How much allowance should kids get?
-Which cartoon is the funniest?
-Should kids be allowed to use cell phones at school?
-Which football/baseball/soccer team is the best?
-Which book should the school library buy/buy more of?
-What should the school add to the playground?
-What kind of field trip should the class take?
-Which school rule should be changed?
-What pet should the class get?
-What is the best restaurant in town?
-Is it better to be smart or to be nice?
-Who should be given more money, schools or the military?
-Would you rather vacation to a big city or to the wilderness?
-Is life easier for boys or for girls?
-What one book should every kid read?
-Nominate a classmate for an award.  Why do they deserve it?
-Should kids get paid to do chores?
-How much screen time should kids be allowed to have?
-How often should kids take a bath/shower?
-What is one thing that should be free for everyone?
-Should kids have to memorize math facts?
-Is it more important to know how to write or to know how to type?
-Should kids get paid for good grades?
-What one place should everyone visit?

Give Them A Jump Start With Sentence Starters

Staring at a blank page is the hardest part of the writing process for both kids and adults. I have found that the secret sauce for getting kids started is to provide them with potential sentence starters. It’s so much easier to fill in the blank than to start from scratch.

***Get your free sentence starter chart HERE!***

A chart like this is perfect to put in student writing notebooks for reference. Opinion writing pieces would use mostly sentences starters from the second and third column. Eventually students become more confident and creative and they can move away from scripted sentence starters but this is a great place to start. You will be amazed by how much more mature your students’ writing sounds when they start to incorporate some of these sentence starters.

 Create a “Payoff”

As adults, when we write there is always a purpose. We write the principal an email to convince her to send us to a conference, we write instructions for a homework assignment, we write a newsletter to parents about upcoming events. Some of us have cultivated a love for writing and will write a poem or a narrative for our own enjoyment. When students write it is frequently because we told them to. For some kids, pleasing the teacher is motivation enough but others do much better when they have more of a pay off for the hard work for putting their ideas to paper, editing, revising, and producing a final copy.  There are a variety of ways to create this motivation:

Give them an authentic audience – Students can write to the principal about their opinion on a school issue, to their parents about their opinion on an issue to home, to the PTA on their opinion about how fundraising money should be spent, to a government official about their opinion on a community matter

Give them an engaging project – Just writing their final copy on a plain piece of paper may not be very motivating to students. Try mixing it up with different kinds of publishing projects.

Write a brochure. The one pictured below is about a favorite place to visit.  Students enjoy looking at travel brochures as examples.  They could also write brochures about a favorite book, their opinion about the best sport, and a wide variety of other topics.

Write reviews. As a class you can write a book review and post it on Amazon. Students get very excited to see their own work on the internet and they feel that they have contributed to something big. Students can also write reviews about movies or restaurants and create a class book. They’re probably familiar with the idea of assigning a certain number of starts out of five. Students enjoy reading the work of their peers and will recognize many of the restaurants or movies in the reviews.

Write award nominations. Assign each student the name of another student in the class. Each writer thinks about what their assigned subject is good at and gives them an award for that trait or skill.  They write about why the person deserves the award.

 

Give them a chance to share – At the dinner table when a parent asks their child, “What did you do at school today?” lots of kids will say, “Nothing.” So when a parent reports back to you with something their child came home excited about, you know you’ve struck an important chord. One of those golden nuggets that kids will rave about at home is a special writing sharing time.  At the end of each unit, throw a publishing party or a book launch. The details are simple. Each student gets a chance to share their best piece with the class.  At the end there’s a little something special. For me it was a toast using small cups of apple juice.  Kids felt so grown up as we honored their hard work. You can take your own spin on it, invite the principal or other special guests, invite parents, maybe ask some kids to bring cookies. When kids are in the trenches of writing, remind them that their hard work is important because they will want something good to share with their classmates at the publishing party.

Connect Steps with Color-Coding

The Common Core standards require that students use an introduction, reasons, and a conclusion in their opinion writing. These multiple sections can feel long, confusing, and insurmountable to some students.  I found a game changer especially for struggling writers – color coding. Color coding isn’t just for reading groups and supply buckets.  Use color coding to connect the dots from the genre structure, to your students’ planning, to their drafts.  The color coding takes away a lot of the confusion and helps students to see how a big paragraph of writing is just made up of bite-sized sentences that they can take-on.

At the top of the graphic I have laid out the main sections of the genre and given each section a color.  Next you can see a planning graphic organizer where each section is outlined in the correct color.  Finally, there is an example draft where the sentence for each section is underlined in the assigned color.  To help your students take it one piece at a time, you can demonstrate how you would write your pink sentence, then have them write their pink sentence.  Then you demonstrate your green sentence and have them write their green sentence.  When students are ready to write more they can add a detail in the green and yellow sections.  (More on color-coding in narrative writing here.)

 

 

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Hannah Braun

Hannah Braun is a former teacher with 8 years of experience in the classroom and a master's degree in early childhood education. She designs engaging, organized classroom resources for 1st-3rd grade teachers.

Author: Hannah Braun

http://www.theclassroomkey.com

Hannah Braun is a former teacher with 8 years of experience in the classroom and a master's degree in early childhood education. She designs engaging, organized classroom resources for 1st-3rd grade teachers.

Our state standards spell it out pretty clearly. My third graders need to be able to write opinion pieces on topics or texts that state an opinion within a framework of an organizational structure that provides reasons that support the opinion and provides a concluding statement. Oh, and they better use transitional words and phrases throughout. These would be the same 8-year-olds who still can't figure out it's not a good idea to put your boots on before your snow pants.  

With all this in mind, meeting those standards seemed like a huge mountain to climb when I was planning out my persuasive writing unit a few weeks ago. I have students who still haven't mastered capitalization and punctuation, so I knew I would have to break down the mechanics of writing an opinion statement into a step-by-step process for them. This week I am happy to share with you a few tips along with the graphic organizers I created to help get my students writing opinion pieces that showed me that my students, while not quite there yet, were fully capable of making it to the top of that mountain.

Introduce the Language of Opinion Writing

The very first thing we did during a writing mini-lesson was go over the language of opinion writing and how certain words, like fun and pretty are opinion clues because while they may be true for some people, they are not true for everyone. We also discuss how other words, called transitions, are signals to your reader as to where you are in your writing: the beginning, middle or end.

After the initial vocabulary is introduced, I challenged my third graders to look for examples of these types of words in their everyday reading. Over the next couple of days, students used sticky notes to add opinion or transition words they found to an anchor chart posted on a classroom wall. Next, I took the words and put them into a chart that I copied for students to glue into their writer's notebooks. You can see our chart below. If you would like to print your own copy, just click on the image.

 

Introduce Easy-to-Read Opinion Pieces

Most of my third graders have read a wide variety of genres by this point in third grade, but when asked if they had ever read the "opinion genre," they answered with a resounding, "No!"  I pointed out to them that they actually read opinion articles nearly every week in our Scholastic News magazine. At that point, I let them dive into the archives of old articles online and they were quickly able to find opinion pieces in several of the issues we had read this year. Students also used the debate section of the online issues. 

On the board we listed some of the articles students found in Scholastic News that contained opinions:

Many Scholastic news articles are perfect to use because they are short, and for the most part have a structure that is similar to how I want my students to write. The articles often include:

  • Both sides of the argument
  • Clearly stated opinions
  • Reasons for holding that opinion
  • Examples to support the reasons
  • Conclusions that are restated with enthusiasm

In the image below, you can see below how easy it was for my students to find the opinions, supporting reasons and examples in the "Debate It" feature we read together on whether the U.S. Mint should stop making pennies.

 

Model, Model, Model!

Once students read the article about pennies, they were ready to form an opinion. After discussing the pros and cons with partners, the class took sides. With students divided into two groups, they took part in a spirited Visible Thinking debate called Tug of War. After hearing many of their classmates voice their reasoning for keeping or retiring the penny, the students were ready to get started putting their thoughts on paper. 

At this time, I introduced our OREO graphic writing organizer. Using the name of a popular cookie is a mnemonic device that helps my students remember the structural order their paragraphs need to take: Opinion, Reason, Example, Opinion. In our class, we say our writing is double-stuffed, because two reasons and two examples are expected instead of one. 

Because this was our first foray into example writing, we worked through the organizer together.

My students did pretty well with the initial organizer and we used it again to plan out opinion pieces on whether sledding should be banned in city parks.

Once students had planned out two different opinions, they selected one to turn into a full paragraph in their writer's notebooks. The organizers made putting their thoughts into a clear paragraph with supporting reasons and examples very easy for most students. 

 

With each practice we did, my students got stronger and I introduced different organizers to help them and to keep interest high. Giving each student one sandwich cookie to munch on while they worked on these organizers helped keep them excited about the whole process. 

After we worked our way through several of the Scholastic News opinion pieces, my third graders also thought of issues pertinent to their own lives and school experiences they wanted to write about, including:

  • Should birthday treats and bagel sales be banned at school?
  • Should all peanut products be banned?
  • Should we be allowed to download our own apps on the iPads the school gave us?

As we continued to practice, different organizers were introduced. Those are shown below. Simply click on each image to download and print your own copy. 

The organizer below is my favorite to use once the students are more familiar with the structure of opinion paragraphs. It establishes the structure, but also helps students remember to use opinion-based sentence starters along with transition words. 

 

Below is a simple organizer some of my students can also choose to use.

 

Other Resources I Have Used

Scholastic offers many different resources for helping your students become better with their opinion writing, or for younger writers, understanding the difference between fact and opinion. A great one to have in your classroom is: 12 Write-On/Wipe-Off Graphic Organizers That Build Early Writing Skills.

 

Click on the images below to download and print. There are many more sheets like these in Scholastic Teachables.

 
A couple weeks into our persuasive writing unit and I have already seen a lot of progress from our very first efforts. We may not have mastered this writing yet, but we are definitely on our way and that mountain doesn't seem quite so high anymore. I hope you find a few of these tips and my graphic organizers helpful! I'd love to hear your tips for elementary writing in the comment section below.

 

 

I'd love to connect with you on Twitter and Pinterest!

 

 

Teacher Store Resources

I love using the graphic organizers in my Grade 3 Writing Lessons to Meet the Common Core. Other teachers in my building use the resources for their grade level as well. They make them for grades 1-6. 

 

 

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