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Three activities to strengthen persuasive writing skills

These persuasive writing activities are flexible enough to slide in with existing lesson plans and encourage students to think critically and creatively about their process.
Persuasive writing

Persuasive writing can be found all around us, from a billboard advertising a new type of shampoo, to a campaign to get a pothole fixed. Teaching persuasive writing techniques helps students to examine the decisions they make and the beliefs they hold. 

What is persuasive writing?

Persuasive writing uses emotive language and clear structure to present an argument and guide the reader towards a conclusion. The author uses their language skills to inspire a reader to agree with their opinion, or even change their behaviour. This could involve giving up smoking, buying a product or supporting a charity.

Why is persuasive writing important?

For secondary and intermediate students engaging with digital and news media, it is important not just to be passive consumers, but to develop critical thinking and persuasive writing skills that empower them to express their own opinions.

In her book The Newsroom, Laura Williamson focuses  on the skills needed by aspiring journalists, with pointers on how to write strong news, features and opinion articles. Journalism, marketing and business are all fields that rely on persuasive writers, but there are all sorts of jobs that rely on strong writing skills.

Furthermore, in the age of misinformation, understanding how persuasive language can be deployed to spread panic, and being able to distinguish fact from opinion, will enable students to become mindful users of news and social media.

According to a 2021 report by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, 4-in-5 Australian adults had seen misinformation about COVID-19. Reported exposure to COVID-19 misinformation was higher among 18- to 25-year-olds. Teaching intermediate and secondary school students media literacy skills has never been more important.

What are the different persuasive writing techniques?

  • A piece of persuasive writing may be written in the first person. The writer often uses inclusive language to get the reader ‘on side’.

Examples: We must … For the sake our future …

  • The writer may also use a personal anecdote or emotive language to engage the reader.
  • They include evidence – facts and data – to support the argument. Some introductory phrases help to flag such evidence. 

Examples: For example … To illustrate … For instance … The evidence is clear …

  • The writer may quote from an expert.
  • Transition words can either connect ideas.

Examples: First … In addition … Demonstrably … Clearly … Significantly … Evidently …

  • Transition words can also signal a new or different argument.

Examples: However … On the other hand … Although …

  • Persuasive texts begin with an introduction that presents the argument and engages the reader. The following paragraphs provide evidence supporting the writer’s argument. 
  • One paragraph should present arguments different from the point of view the writer is arguing for, and the evidence for them.
  • The text should finish with a conclusion that highlights an interesting point already made or present a question for future research.

Activity 1: Human continuum

Write a statement on the class whiteboard – for example, “Learning to swim is more important than learning to read.”                                                                       

Display four opinion cards – Strongly agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly disagree – at different points across a classroom wall in this order so that the strong opinions are at opposite ends of the wall.                      

Tell students to think about their level of agreement with the statement and justifications for their response. Then ask them to move to stand by the card that indicates their level of agreement. Ask them to move without talking.         

When students have found their places on the continuum, invite them to explain why they agree or disagree with the statement. After hearing from a few students, give everyone an opportunity to change where they are standing.

Activity 2: Tactile planning

This is a flexible planning exercise from How to Teach Writing, Spelling and Grammar by Helen Walls with Christine Braid. It will help students develop their key argument and points when developing a piece of persuasive writing.                                       

  1. Give students five pieces of paper to plan a five-paragraph opinion piece and ask them to write subtopics on each sheet.
  2. Students add relevant key words and phrases below each subtopic heading, before ordering the papers into a booklet, with paragraph one at the top, through to paragraph five at the bottom.
  3. Lastly, students are to staple the papers together and refer to the booklet as they write. For some students, tearing off each page as they finish a paragraph reinforces a sense of self-efficacy and motivation (Brann 2001).

Activity 3: Examining the writing process

In her book Powerful Thinking, Powerful Writing, Bek Galloway lists ‘Seven important questions for powerful writing’, for students to ask themselves, which are as follows:

1. What is the purpose of writing?

2. Who is my audience?

3. What style should I be writing in?

4. What ideas and thinking will best meet the purpose and needs of the audience?

  • What are the main/most important ideas from my thinking? (Refer back to the graphic organiser.)
  • What detail will I add to my ideas?

5. Which language features will meet the purpose, needs of the audience and required style?

  • What types of words are needed?
  • What literary devices are needed?
  • What idea or thought will each paragraph be about?

6. What structure would be best?

  • How many paragraphs will I need?
  • What idea or thought will each paragraph be about?
  • What types of sentences best meet the purpose, needs of the audience and required style?
  • What connectives will best join the whole text together?

7. How do I transform my thinking into writing?

  • What parts am I using from my graphic organiser?
  • How will I write about it?

These persuasive writing activities are flexible enough to slide in with existing lesson plans and encourage student to think critically and creatively about their process. You’ll find a handy graphic organiser template for students to write these questions into here. Or, you can explore the other resources below that delve into teaching ideas for developing persuasive writing skills.                      

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