Monday, November 2, 2015

Eighth Graders Have Plenty of Opinions

How does an effective teacher engage students in the classroom? In a middle school ELA classroom the answer is, let them state their opinion on a subject that they know they are an expert. What would you say that middle school students know a lot about? Everything of course. There is no better way to get students creating and evaluating than with learning how to write opinion pieces!
I was excited to sit in on some eighth graders working on their op ed strategies for openings and closings this past week. This writing unit is comprised of fifteen lessons with the ultimate goal of producing a well crafted and supported opinion piece. The overarching unit objective is: “Writing is Powerful. Use it to change the world.” Students were learning how to express their opinions clearly and persuasively, in the hopes that they could sway hearts, change minds, and maybe, just maybe, change school policy?

The students focus on the process of inquiry, breaking down their writing and discovering what a reasoned argument looks like. You can see right away that this type of writing is different than most school writing. Students get to play with tone, sarcasm and humor in many ways that they cannot do with their usual writing.

Some essential questions and key points were relayed to the students:
  • What does an argument look like?
  • How do you use evidence persuasively?
  • Approach one reason at a time.
  • Each paragraph centers on a reason.
  • Evidence has to match reasons.
  • Evidence can come from a variety of resources: own lives are persuasive pieces of evidence.

Students were allowed to choose their own topics for their op-eds. I asked some students what they chose. Here is a short list:
  • Homework  - get too much; some say we are ok
  • Later school start times
  • Value of violent video games
  • School lunch
  • Macbooks vs Chromebooks
  • Low fat milk vs whole milk
  • Why we shouldn’t write op eds

I loved the last one. Why not write an op-ed about why they shouldn’t write an op-ed? It was great to see all of these students focused on the task at hand. In this unit alone, students were generating ideas, drafting their op-eds, researching their topics, and revising and editing their pieces. I look forward to hearing their final arguments and presentation of their evidence!