ehindSimplify opinion writing lessons with these teaching strategies. If you teach grades 1 through 8 these ideas are for you.
You’re at the door of your classroom greeting students as they enter.
One student gives you their opinon of yesterday’s math lesson. “It was too hard!” Hmm. Time to revisit the concept.
Another tells you their opinion of yesterday’s PE game. “It’s the best game ever! Let’s play it again today!” You smile and assure them you’ll play it again.
A third student shares their opinion about your appearance. “You changed your makeup. I liked it better the other way.” Ouch. The honesty is cutting.
Students never have a lack of opinions. But when it comes to writing and supporting them, it’s a whole different basket of apples.
If you’re wondering how to teach opinion writing so that your students can coherently defend their position, this post is for you.
Lay the Foundation Before You Teach Opinion Writing
Before you even begin, lay the foundation. Make sure your students understand the difference between fact and opinion.
“The best ice cream is vanilla.”
We know this isn’t a fact. But do your students know it? Help your students decide why it’s an opinion and not a fact. Facts can be proven with data, opinions are in the mind’s eye of the beholder.
Once students are clear on what constitutes an opinion, make sure they know how to support that opinion.
“In my opinion, the best ice cream is vanilla. One reason vanilla is my favorite is because the flavor goes with any kind of topping I want to put on it. Also, no one else in my family likes vanilla, so I get to eat it all!”
Do you have carpet time or circle time each morning? It’s a great time to practice opinions quickly as a conversation. Pose an opinion-type question to your students. Let them state an opinion with one or two supporting reasons. Staging it as a conversation lowers their threshold of stress.
If you teach upper grades, or you don’t have a morning meeting routine, how about putting a question of the day on the board? Students can write about it in a morning journal, or have a conversation with a partner about it.
“This or that” types of questions, and the variation of “Would You Rather” questions are easy for students to begin chatting about. Plus, they seem to love them.
Students choose between two options. They must give support to the side they chose.
Students Love These Examples of Would You Rather Questions
- Would you rather be an astronaut or an inventor? Give me two reasons why.
- Would you rather have an iguana or a mouse for a pet? Give me two reasons why.
- Would you rather eat lunch from home or lunch from the cafeteria? Give me two reasons why.
The key here is that students must support their opinion with reasons. You can ask them to give only one reason, two reasons, or even three reasons.
The Key Idea for Students to Remember
Reassure your students that this is not a “right or wrong” type of activity. There is no right or wrong answer. What matters is whether or not they can support their opinion.
“You are not trying to convince or persuade the other person. Instead, you’re simply explaining your opinion or point of view.”
Using Seat Glue to Practice Writing Opinions Every Day
Writing every day is the key to improving. Ask Stephen King. Ask any professional author. It’s the whole reason behind NaNoWriMo. TIt’s typically called “butt glue.” Yep. We have to get our butts in the seat and write.
This is easier said than done, especially when time is at such a premium in the teaching day.
It’s possible to get the routine and the time for writing without sacrificing other important responsibilities. You can read about how to create a daily writing habit in this blog post.
Do you feel as if you can’t squeeze another thing into your day? Here’s another post about writing every day that shows you how to make it happen.
The key thing to note here is that focused practice brings expertise. If your students are writing opinions every day, you can be sure they are going to get really good at stating and supporting their opinions. You can even make it fun so they’ll love it. I chat about that and share some prompts in the blog post, I Love Opinion Writing! Here’s Why.
Focus on Just One Writing Genre at a Time
One key strategy in teaching any genre of writing is to focus on one genre at a time. Don’t skip around between opinion one week, narrative the next week, and research the third week.
Map out your writing lessons to progressively build on each other. I like to teach opinion writing in this order:
- Fact and opinion first, to learn to identify opinions.
- Opinion writing second, where they learn to support their opinions.
- Persuasive writing third, where they expand their support to identify reader objections and persuade them to agree with their opinion.
If you choose this three-step path, this blog post will give you some high-interest persuasive writing topics.
To recap: When you’re teaching opinion writing, it’s best if every writing assignment you give your students should be opinions. Do this for a few weeks before switching to the next genre.
Five Top Tips for Teaching Strong Opinion Writing
Thanks for reading all the way to this point. You are amazing!
Tip 1: Classroom Conversation
First, have those conversations about the difference between opinion and fact. Have your students answer questions that ask for their opinions. Require students to support their opinions with valid reasons. Encourage them to be bold with their opinions.
It’s super important before having these conversations that you’ve already laid the ground rules for conversations in your classroom. Things like no put downs, no eye rolling or snickering. Things like appreciating everyone’s point of view, valuing everyone’s input.
Tip 2: Model the Process
Always model, model, and model again when you’re teaching a writing strategy. Project a document in front of the class and write your own opinion about a simple question.
As you write your opinion and supporting reasons, talk about your thought processes. Allow students to make suggestions to help you if you would like.
Tip 3: Write Out Loud
Have your students turn and talk in answer to a question. As they talk to a partner or their table group, they’ll clarify the process of opinion writing. This step is super important to help them build confidence.
Have you ever had a student who didn’t have the liberty to express their opinions at home? This step allows them to learn how to safely express opinions.
Tip 4: Grab Some Great Graphic Organizers Here (They’re F-R-E-E.)
Using a graphic organizer can help your students lay out their thoughts before they become enmeshed in the opinion essay. Another thing I love about using organizers is if you only have a few minutes, your students can get their ideas down on paper. They’re great for teaching note-taking as well.
They can save the papers in their writing folders, or the digital copies online. The next day, when they write, they’ll have everything they need to get started right away. No hemming and hawing around for them!
You can give them an organizer that just asks for supporting reasons. This would end up being a four or five sentence paragraph that states their opinion.
If you use an opinion writing graphic organizer that asks for details to support the opinions, it will end up being a longer paragraph, or even a three to five paragraph essay.
At the bottom of this post, there’s a link to my Member Vault. It has a packet of free, tried and true, graphic organizers for teaching writing.
Tip 5: Let Them Peer Edit and Revise Their Opinion Writing
Have you noticed that when you edit students’ papers, they don’t always pay attention to your notes? On the other hand, if a fellow student edits another student’s paper, they look at those edits under a microscope! Of course, you want to lay ground rules for valuing others opinions, and sharing ideas respectfully before you incorporate peer-editing.
You may have already read about my system for CUPS editing in five minutes. You can watch a video showing how to implement it in your classroom. This works even in grades 1 or 2. Yes, your students truly can edit their own work in just a matter of minutes.
The most awesome part of this system is students are practicing the skills they learn every day in your class. They’re thinking critically about another student’s writing. Finally, they’re communicating as a team member.
Takeaways About Teaching Opinion Writing
No matter what grade you teach, from first grade to eighth grade, you can use this system to teach opinion writing to your students. You can adapt it to fit your students’ needs and interests. When I taught fifth grade, my students loved sharing their opinion writing in an informal debate style process. I’m sure middle school students would enjoy that, too.
If you’re reading this in the fall months, I have eight October Halloween opinion writing prompts for you. It includes a full lesson, with color coded writing, CUPS editing, graphic organizers, writing paper, and of course, cute graphics appropriate for upper elementary. Click here if you want to take a look at it.
Over my years of teaching, I learned to listen carefully to my students’ opinions. Even those about my hair and makeup. Now, before I make a change, I ask myself, “What are two reasons why I should do this?”
How about you? What opinions have your students told you that made you laugh or cut you to the heart? Please share them in the comments!