Using Speech Bubbles to Deconstruct a Persuasive Essay

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SWBAT deconstruct a persuasive essay to understand the writer's craft by adding speech bubbles to a text.

Big Idea

Accomplish close reading and comprehension using speech bubbles to annotate an essay.

Teacher to Teacher: Lesson Overview and Context

Ready. Set. Write. These three words set the tone for my pedagogic philosophy about writing: For students to improve their writing, they must write often (preferably daily) and they must write in quantity.

I expect students to be ready to write daily. Additionally, rather than announcing an essay assignment at the end of a literature unit, I focus students attention on preparing for major writing assignments throughout our study of literature and weave focused writing instruction into the literature units. 

As a teacher, it's my job to help students find their writing voices and to show them they have important things to say.

In its original context, it is part of the Persuasive Essay Writing Unit.

Using Mentor Texts

15 minutes

Since I want students to compose a persuasive essay, it's important that they see an accessible example of one. I specifically chose the essay Banning Books-An Un-American Act.pdf for several reasons. 

First, the essay is from the book Breakfast on Mars and 37 Other Delectable Essays. In the book, published writers tackle "the dreaded high school essay assignment." The editors purposefully designed the book to demonstrate to students ways to approach their high school essay assignments, and they wanted to break the five-paragraph-essay formula by showing unconventional ways to approach the various writing modes. Each essay is accompanied by a short biography that names the writer's published works. 

Second, my students are writing persuasive essays based on the banning or potential banning of books they have chosen to read this year. Thus, the mentor text speaks directly to their upcoming essays but in a more general way. 

Additionally, the essay incorporates both quotes and constitutional references into the argument. This is something I hope students consider doing as they consider their analysis. 

The essay is also very interesting and approachable, both in terms of its relatively informal structure and its personal tone, both of which I'll address with students in a subsequent lesson. 

Finally, I expect some students will ask if they can use the essay in their papers. I'll let them and require them to provide both parenthetical citations and a Works Cited entry, which most won't have a problem with given I'm letting them use the essay. 

Introducing the Essay

Distribute the essay among students and explain that the essay is a  sample persuasive essay they'll use as an example for their essays. Teachers might also want to tell students the source of the essay and the premise of the book, which I held up for students to see. 

Read the essay aloud to students, asking them to follow along as you read. Also, invite them to mark the text any way they wish to mark it, but instruct them to circle any new words. 

Add Speech Bubbles: An Annotation Method

45 minutes

Once the teacher has completed the reading, show students the Sample "Speech Bubbles" in a Text which is really marginal notes. I use the term speech bubbles to give the lesson a playful connotation, as these students often choose to read graphic novels and have a high level of familiarity with speech bubbles.

Tell students that they'll be adding "speech bubbles" to the essay.

Now, draw a "page" on the board Teacher Notes w/ Instructions and put lines on it. To demonstrate the activity, draw a "speech bubble" on the board.

Then read the first part of the mentor text. This, of course, is the excerpt from the First Amendment.

Ask: "What's going on in this passage?" What's it's purpose? If this doesn't prompt students to give the desired response, tell students that they will provide explanations in their speech bubbles to help a classmate understand the essay. This will generate "Oohs" and "Ahas" among students. They like helping one another.


Tell students, "Add a speech bubble to each paragraph in the essay." Expect some groaning. So add, "You may work together as long as you work." Then tell students, "Whatever you don't finish in class is homework for the evening." That will prompt them to work more diligently rather than wasting time. 

Some students chose to type their bubbles and add them to the text later, others chose to add them directly on the page rather than on separate paper they then added to the essay. 

Check for Understanding:

As students work, mill around the room and see how they're doing. The artifacts show two student approaches, one w/ Student Speech Bubbles Added to Mentor Text, and the other with Student Speech Bubbles on the Side


I provided paper for students to use to create speech bubbles and old post-it notes from the dollar store, which students tore in strips or cut.