It's natural for people to persuade others to think the same way that they do. In this lesson, the kids will get the opportunity to practice this skill and write effective persuasive letters as they go along. Attached in resources are a number of persuasive prompts to ease the kids into this lesson. I chose the one below for its simplicity. Everyone will be able to spot something in the classroom and try to sell it!
Start with one of these listed in the resource. Below is number 87:
"Pick a random object nearby and convince someone to buy it."
The students will enjoy looking around and coming up with not just a good idea, but a clever one. The possibilities are endless. A pencil sharpener? Who can stand to write with a dull point? The window? Who wants to feel claustrophobic in a closed in room? A cubbie for books? Who wants to have their books all over the floor? They have fun sharing these.
The Greek Philosopher, Aristotle divided the means of persuasion into three categories:
ethos (credibility-the source is believeable.)
pathos (emotional-the source has a way of touching the reader's feelings.)
logos (logical-the source appeals to the reader's sense of reason.)
We immerse our students in Greek and Latin root words in fourth and fifth grades at our school so this tidbit of information is an integration of the roots and their understanding of how they relate. I have the three means of persuasion already written on the Smart Board so the kids can reread while I discuss. They also copy these into their notebook for future reference. We discuss both the meaning of each root, but also how it relates to the meaning in parentheses.
In groups, the kids look around the room, or imagine what is nearby on the school campus and write a few lines to persuade someone to buy the object with ethos, pathos, logos ideas in mind. I let the kids pick their own groups in this activity. My rationale was that if they're friends, they'll probably agree faster and come up with some great persuasive ideas to share. This is what happened, although it probably wouldn't have been much different had I picked sticks to get the groups. It is nice, however, to surprise them once in a while and say, "You're on your own to get a group together!"
The Persuasive Paper Prewriting organizer is an good way to ease the kids into the lesson of persuasive letter writing. In our district, they've been writing persuasive essays for years, so putting it into the form of a letter will be no problem. In fact, one of the strategies with persuasive essay writing is to write a letter and then remove the Greeting once it's completed.
Explain to the kids, "Persuasive writing is the writer's chance to give their opinion and try to convince others that they should agree with that opinion. Through careful planning and with factual information and examples of your point of view, it's possible to change the point of view other's have held." Explain that one of the most effective ways to get your point across is using higher level vocabulary properly. Many an agrument has been won due to an individual's ability to "wield the superior vocabulary wand."
The resource below has one hundred appropriate and applicable persuasive prompts from which to choose. If a student has their own idea, of course, that's great! This fabulous list prevents the tired, "I have no idea what to write..." complaints and also gives the kids a break from a brainstorming activity.
**I had the best intention in mind when giving them a lot of choice in their topic, but after the fact...assigning a topic is much easier!
Core Curriculum writing standard W.5.1 is strong in our district. Through our writing benchmarks, our district has instructed students to write Persuasive Essays for many years, and the kids are well prepared. It's a rather easy task to ask a student about something they want others to agree with them on because kids have strong opinions. Writing it down on paper may make it a bit tougher, but when they're instructed to make their rough draft an expression of how they speak, it works like a charm and the words flow.
Although it's fun and a great way to wrap-up the lesson...rather than read their letters this time, they are going to see how many classmates they can persuade to agree with their position. In groups, instead of whole class, they share their letters, then vote privately to see how the points of view stack up.
The way the groups are divided could be: the groups they're already sitting with, a random pull of classroom sticks, division by topic of persuasion, all boy/all girl groups, etc. It takes time to divide them by similar topics, but is by far the most engaging way to cluster the kids so as to be effective.
The activity was well-received by the kids. I didn't group the kids in any special way on this day...they just worked with their table group, but did a nice job. They took turns reading the rough drafts they'd just written, and after each one wrote tally marks in columns of Persuaded or Not. The most difficult part of the activity with one group came after two letters had been read. On the third letter, which was about "Why we shouldn't have tag at recess," others in the group blurted out anti-position comments during the reading. I intervened and told them to respect the student expressing her opinion, then later used it as an example to the rest of the class about why persuasive letters sometimes cause controversy.
Throughout the entire unit, there is so much letter writing, that not every letter will be delivered to its intended audience. I do love it when kids initiate it themselves, however! There are always those students with the interest in taking each assignment to its fullest point and I'm happy to oblige. All the kids know they have the opportunity to edit and resubmit any of the letters if they want me to mail their letter.
Analyzing the various Persuaded or Not sheets brought predictable results. In one group, letters focusing on Better Cafeteria Food, Elementary School Sports, Longer Recess, Sit Anywhere in the Cafeteria, Stop War had high reports of "persuasion". Skewed? Probably, since these were commonly agreed upon ideas and persuasion most likely played a secondary role. Other topics, such as the one about Why We Shouldn't Have Tag at Recess or Having Homework on the Weekend, showed a lesser persuasion tally rate, but indicated that a less popular idea still persuaded people's opinion, and they came around.
The objective was to write letters of persuasion with reasons supported by facts and details, and that objective was met. Evidentally, many students put into writing their right phrase!