Persuasive writing is a form of nonfiction writing that encourages careful word choice, the development of logical arguments, and a cohesive summary. Young children can be guided through a series of simple steps in an effort to develop their persuasive writing skills.
Why teach persuasive writing?
As children mature as writers, it's important to give them the opportunity to write using a variety of formats. Persuasive writing helps students formulate specific reasons for their opinions, and provides an opportunity to research facts related to their opinions. As students develop an understanding of how writing can influence or change another's thoughts or actions, they can begin to understand the persuasive nature of the marketing they are exposed to through television, the Internet, and other media.
How to teach persuasive writing
- Have students listen to or read examples of persuasive writing. Together, listen and look for words, phrases and techniques that helped the writer persuade the listener.
- Brainstorm something that is important to an individual child or the group. Is it extra recess? Another chapter of the read aloud? The potential closing of a library? The more authentic the issue, the more passionately your students will write.
- Once the important privilege is chosen, have the child (or class) start to list reasons why they should be allowed this privilege. "Just because," and "because I like it" should not be considered valid reasons. Students can work together to generate at least three good reasons to support an argument. This list of persuasive words (44K PDF)* and phrases from the site Teaching Ideas may help get students started.
- Have students do some research to gather facts or examples that support their reasons.
- Have students summarize their position.
Here's a persuasive letter written by an elementary school student
from Crozet, VA:
This persuasive writing lesson from ReadWriteThink uses the Beverly Cleary book Emily's Runaway Imagination as the springboard for kids to write letters to a librarian urging the addition of certain titles to the library. A Persuasion Map Planning Sheet (28K PDF)* guides students through steps similar to what is described above.
This resource shows the lifecycle of writing a persuasive letter to a child's parents about where to vacation for the summer. The PDF begins with the brainstorming, moves through drafting, editing, and publishing of the final letter.
From Writing Fix, here's a speech writing lesson that uses the mentor text Otto Runs for President in conjunction with the RAFT strategy. In this lesson, students assume to the role of a talking fruit or vegetable. Pretending that there's a "Fruit/Vegetable of the Year" election, the students will create a campaign speech that explains why their fruit/veggie is the best candidate for the job.
Children's books to use with this strategy
Otto Runs for President
When Otto runs for school presidency, he must defeat some underhanded techniques used by his opponents. What might convince the students that Otto is the best candidate for the job?
Emily's Runaway Imagination
Emily Bartlett lives in an old farmhouse in Pitchfork, Oregon at a time when automobiles are brand-new inventions and libraries are a rare luxury. Can Emily use her lively mind to help bring a library to Pitchfork? ReadWriteThink offers a persuasive writing lesson plan featuring this book.
Click Clack Moo, Cows That Type
When Farmer Brown's cows type their demands for electric blankets, Farmer Brown refuses. Duck's negotiations are successful — but lead to demands by other animals. How could the cows and later the hens have written a more persuasive letter? How might Farmer Brown's response to them been made more persuasive?
Martin's Big Words
Picture book biography
Martin Luther King, Jr. grew up during a time when the United States was segregated. Real life events are juxtaposed to quotes from King in this rich and well documented though brief book. Martin's words were considered big; why? Write a letter of appreciation to convince someone [a newspaper editor?] of Martin Luther King's importance to others.
How Oliver Olson Changed the World
Third-grade Oliver's parents are very protective and are reluctant to allow him to spend the night at his class' space sleepover. Write a letter to convince Oliver's parents participate in this school event. Oliver and his classmate, Crystal, collaborate on a diorama of the planets. Oliver, however, is upset that Pluto has been "demoted" from planet status. Write a letter to convince Crystal (or their teacher) that Pluto's status should not have been changed.
The Storyteller's Candle/La velita de los cuentos
Pura Belpre welcomed fellow Puerto Ricans to the library in New York City where she worked. Write a letter to the Mayor of New York (or the library director) supporting an award named after Pura Belpre, noting why her contribution was (and still is) noteworthy.
For second language learners, students of varying reading skill, students with learning disabilities, and younger learners
- Have students work in small groups to generate their ideas and do the research.
- Offer various suggestions for how students can share their argument: e.g., a debate format, a "soapbox" in the classroom, or letters to the editor of the newspaper.
See the research that supports this strategy
Wollman-Bonilla, J. (2000). Family message journals: Teaching writing through family involvement. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.