For the Sake of Argument: Another Common Core Shift

For Younger Elementary Students

Even though our very youngest learners may not be able to make a claim and support it with reasons and evidence, they certainly have opinions! We need to help them move from opinions to sound arguments. Students can offer opinions inspired by read-alouds, content area work, even field trip experiences.  The standards call for drawings accompanied by written or dictated sentences that express an opinion and give a reason.    Introduce and explain the term opinion.  Use it often, along with “I think” as a sentence starter for students to complete, as in these few examples:

In my opinion, the best part about our visit to the apple orchard was ________ because ______.
In my opinion, ____________ is the best season of the year because ___________.
I think the most important thing about a friend is _______ because __________.
I think our school/classroom/town really needs _________because ____________.
In my opinion, __________ has the best pizza because _______.

Once your students have gained some writing experience, you might consider letter writing as a format.  This first grade unit for opinion writing is quite thorough and contains mentor texts, samples of student writing, graphic organizers, a rubric, etc. aligned with the Common Core standards. Students first brainstorm persuasive topics by asking themselves “What do I want to change?” and then write a letter to the person who may be able to help bring about the change (parent, teacher, principal, nurse, cafeteria staff, etc.)  This becomes a foundation for thinking about audience.

Another possibility for letter-writing could involve texts that have been read-alouds.  Have students write you a letter offering their opinion about a particular character and his/her actions, or a specific scene from the story.  (Again, give them a narrow focus to help them to be successful.)  As an example, this lesson using Intel's Showing Evidence tool can be used after reading the classic tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. Students discuss what makes a hero, whether doing something bad for a good reason is ever acceptable, and ultimately answer the question “Can a thief (Jack) be a hero?”

Once you look at your daily teaching through the lens of the Common Core, you will see many opportunities to link reading and writing.  Text-based writing becomes increasingly important as students move up through the grades, and even young children can handle the task with explicit instruction and guided practice.  As an example, spend several sessions reading books like those below. Then ask students to respond to this question:  “Is technology a good thing?”  Have them include evidence from either the words or the illustrations to support their opinion.

Technology-related read-aloud books:

Novak, Matt.  Mouse TV.  ISBN: 978-1453725559.  Lexile: 480

Rocco, John.  Blackout.  ISBN:  978-1423121909. Lexile: BR (appropriate for emergent readers)

Yaccarino, Dan.  Doug Unplugged.  ISBN: 978-0-375-86643-2. Lexile: not available (newly published)

More ideas for younger elementary students:

Your classroom community can be a source of ideas for this type of writing as well.  One second grade teacher got her students engaged in opinion writing by posing the question, “What class pet should we get?”  She shares her step-by-step, scaffolded process of researching (with QR codes to sites she hand-picked), pre-writing, drafting, writing, revising, and then adding a technology component in this six-minute Youtube video.

KidzVuz, is a site for elementary-aged children to express their opinions in video review form. Categories include toys, games, food, pets, sports, technology, movies and TV, etc.  A full review from TeachersFirst is available.  The video format might be a useful alternative for students who struggle with the physical act of writing.  Since many of the videos appear to be created by kids at home, your own students could critique some of the reviews, too, after learning about how to build effective arguments and express opinions supported by reasons.  You could do something similar within your own classroom if you did not want to use the online environment at KidsVuz.

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