I got a phone call one evening from a colleague in my building who said "Hey, I was watching the Ellen Show and she just gave away $10, 000 to a family to go watch a football game." I responded skeptically with, "Yeah.......". She said, "I have an idea. We should start a campaign to get Ellen to give us a computer lab!" I asked her how this would involve me and she said that she would like the older students to write persuasive letters asking Ellen to help us get a computer lab. So began the persuasive letter writing unit and our "Ask Ellen" campaign at school.
On the first day, my students entered the room, and I closed the door. They all know when I close the door I have serious business to discuss with them. I sat down in the very front of the room and said, "I have a very important proposition for you." They were all curious so I began to explain the idea from my colleague. We talked about the technology our building is lacking and that other buildings had. We talked about how it's hard to become a 21st century learner without the proper tools. I shared my experience of my own daughter learning Power Point in 2nd grade. I said, these are things we need to write in our letter. I turned the Smartboard on where I already had Ellen's picture.
After all of the comments- "Hey, I know her!" and "I watch that show!" and "That's Ellen!" I said, "Yes, that is Ellen and we're going to ask her to help us get a computer lab." That brought out even more excitement. "But first," I said, "we have to talk about persuasive letters."
A Note here: This lesson is a persuasive writing lesson. The resources are generic and can be used with any topic for any persuasive letter. You should feel free to choose a person or organization tied to what your class is studying to write to.
I gave students the example of asking for the new $500 Xbox 1 for Christmas. I asked them what they would tell their mom to convince her to buy it for them. They responded with things like, "I do all my chores without you asking me", and "I get good grades in school." I acknowledged their thinking and said, "We use reasons and examples to talk someone into something." I told them that's what we were going to do with Ellen. We were going to give her reasons why we need a computer lab- why she should help us get one- why we deserve a computer lab.
I hand out the graphic organizer and go through it step by step. The big box (the goal or wish) is the same for everyone. The middle boxes are their reasons they need the wish and each little box in a group are supporting examples for the middle box. I spent a lot of time on those middle boxes to make sure that students understood to take their time and think of good reasons. You can't convince someone if you don't believe in your own reasons!!
I'll be honest, I had planned about 15 minutes for the graphic organizer, but my students took a good 35 minutes to complete it. I don't know if it was a difficult concept or if they were just thinking so hard that it took that long. In any event, this lesson ended up being one day longer because of how long it took the students to complete this graphic.
Because it took students so long to complete their graphic, we were going to spend an extra day on this persuasive letter writing. At the end of class, I allow students to share and other students to glean ideas from their classmates. After the sharing, I collect the finished graphic organizers and send the unfinished ones home.