Finding an Idea is the Most Crucial Part

By Karen Caine, Author, and Independent Literacy Consultant.



Great persuasive writing can’t be scheduled, but it can be invited. We know this to be true about memoir because we live it in our classrooms. And we know it to be true about poetry too. We invite students to open up their hearts and minds, to observe and to wonder, to write with imagery, and above all, to find their voice.


What if instead of introducing persuasive writing as test prep, we first combined what we know works well in writing workshop with what we believe about helping students write with passion, and writing with the qualities of strong opinion writing? We might call this unit: Writing to Learn and Express What Matters. Or we might call it Writing Persuasively from the Heart or Writing on a Complicated Issue.


In writing workshop, we teach students to find their own topics. We do this because we know that when a topic matters to them, they are more likely to write with beauty and fresh word choice. We know too that we can teach students how to structure their writing based on meaning instead of assigning a structure. (Test prep then, would come after a unit on persuasive writing.)


We would begin a persuasive unit the way we begin most writing process studies, by studying mentor texts, and by helping students find topics they care about. We can begin this unit by teaching students to ask and answer the following questions:


  • What books should be in the library?


  • What is your favorite place?


  • What do you think is true that maybe others do not?


  • What have you read that has you thinking?


  • What bothers you in the world?


  • What conversations do you have time and time again,  where you make the same point?


Teaching students to write persuasively starts with teaching them to find what only they can write well. As a fourth grader told me last week, “The idea is the most crucial part.”


I think he’s right.


Karen Caine will be presenting at the 2012 Literacy for All Conference in Providence, RI this November!


Her sessions will include a four-hour Sunday Pre-Conference Workshop on November 4:

  • Teaching Students to Write Persuasively (Grades 4–8)


And 90-minute sessions on Monday, November 5:

  • Nonfiction Mentor Authors (Grades 3–8)
  • Study Groups and Response Groups in the Writing Workshop (Grades 3–8)


Learn more about Literacy for All:

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