My students really resist writing. Any kind of writing. I can't really blame them - I didn't like writing when I was in school, either. But I recently engaged my students in a writing unit that met with less resistance than usual - thanks to StoryWorks.
Scholastic To The Rescue
If you don't know about StoryWorks, read my post about this fantastic Common Core resource from Scholastic. I love, love, love it! In a recent edition of the magazine, an article was included entitled "Should Girls Play on Boys' Sports Teams?". The article focused on persuasive writing and main ideas/supporting details. After reading and discussing the article with my class, I asked the students to help me identify three arguments for each side of the debate, as well as a supporting detail for each argument (this was the suggested activity included with the article).
I teach two leveled classes, so my advanced group worked on figuring out the arguments and details with a partner and then shared out. With my other class, we did this activity whole group, so that I could model for them how to find main ideas and details. When the activity was complete, we did some whole group discussion of the points on each side and our thoughts/feelings about the topic.
In subsequent class periods, I asked to students to choose a side. I then divided the class into groups that included people supporting both sides of the argument. We got on Edmodo, and I polled the class about their opinions. Once this was complete, I asked for each group to post one discussion point for each side of the argument. The students within a group could respond to each other and make counter-arguments, but were not yet allowed to respond to posts from outside their small group. This allowed us to begin the debate on a small scale, and gave us some time to discuss debate etiquette and guidelines. Once the groups had a chance to debate amongst themselves, I opened it up and allowed any student to contribute to any post.
The debate worked very well on Edmodo. We didn't have to worry about taking turns, or anyone getting drowned out in the conversation. In fact, some of my most quiet and reserved students were the most enthusiastic debaters - they didn't have the pressure of all eyes being on them, and this gave them a freedom they normally do not experience in class activities. The debate was incredibly lively - pitting girls against boys never fails on that count!
Throughout the debate, I was able to follow along, participate, and moderate as necessary. I was delighted to find the students reminding each other to use their supporting facts from the text. Every student was engaged, and the topic was perfect for bringing passion and strong opinions to the assignment. Once the debate began to die out, we conducted a second poll to see if anyone had changed their opinion. The results were another interesting point of discussion for the class.
The debate allowed my students to work on using their evidence to support their arguments, to go to the Internet to find outside sources as needed, and to fully develop their own thoughts and opinions on the topic. With their arguments solidified, we moved on to persuasive writing.
Extending the Argument
The StoryWorks website provides some excellent supporting materials for the magazine. In this case, I printed and copied a persuasive writing organizer that accompanied the article we analyzed. This allowed my students to get their arguments and evidence in order before writing. After filling out the organizer, we worked together to create a basic outline for persuasive writing and discussed persuasive language as well as "hooks" and conclusions.
When we finally got around to writing, it was a pretty simple task for the students to transfer their organizer and outline into an essay. I asked the classes to hand write the essay first - they needed to build writing stamina before we head into state testing. This hand written copy was used for peer editing, and final drafts were typed using Google Docs.
Learning That Lasts
This unit took quite some time to complete, as there were a lot of topics and a lot of steps involved. However, it was worth being so thorough - my students showed a marked improvement in not only persuasive writing, but also in arguing effectively during class discussions and using evidence to support their thoughts when responding to texts.
If you would like to learn more about Edmodo, please see the post I recently wrote about the app. You can also read my post about using Google Docs in the classroom. The above StoryWorks link provides information about the publication and the online resources available from Scholastic.
ELA CCSS addressed: RI.6.1, RI.6.3, RI.6.5, RI.6.8, W.6.1, W.6.2, W.6.4, W.6.5, W.6.6, W.6.9, W.6.10, SL.6.1, SL.6.3, L.6.1, L.6.2, L.6.3, L.6.6