I will be teaching a fourth grade class writing skills from the Common Core State Standards. The unit will be on writing an opinion piece. I’m specifically interested on working with writing as I have been teaching outside of the USA for five years and writing has not been my focus. I have generally been asked to focus on speaking and listening first, reading second, and writing as a very faraway third. So, in order to really tackle the writing aspect in my clinicals, I would like to give extra time to thinking of the best ways to teach writing (while of course, making it fun).
According to the common core standards, the unit is to specifically, “Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information” (English Language Arts Standards).
In order to show that students have achieved these learning goals, students should be able to generate ideas for a writing piece, be able to draft their pieces, and be able to write and revise their own drafts to create a final product. As stated on the English Language Arts Standards, additional end goals include students being able to,
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.1.A – Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which related ideas are grouped to support the writer’s purpose.
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.1.B – Provide reasons that are supported by facts and details.
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.1.C – Link opinion and reasons using words and phrases (e.g., for instance, in order to, in addition).
- CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.4.1.D – Provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion presented.
I will specifically focus on activities for the first and second sections of the standard above in this blog post (4.1.A and B), but more heavily on 4.1.A, which are the first two sections of the overall unit. I have focused on both because they overlap a bit and it makes sense to not teach one entirely exclusively, but to show instead how they work together and intertwine. This is about introducing a topic clearly, stating an opinion, and creating an organizational structure in which the ideas are related to the writer’s purpose. Sounds like a doozy to me! Students will have to accomplish the following proficiencies by the end of this unit:
- Identify a topic that they have enough knowledge to support
- Understand the difference between fact and opinion, and think of ways to support their topics using both
- Create an organizational structure without the use of prompts to make their piece coherent
- Support their overall topic or thesis by using their own ideas/reasons
Identifying a Topic
In order to identify a topic, and introduce the overall topics of writing opinion pieces, I think we should get reading. Scholastic.com offers a range of texts (for free) that are geared to elementary students. They have different themes and they have a range of writing styles, including persuasive writing styles whose topics are great for fourth graders (i.e. Should kids have a TV in their bedroom). I know my students could discuss that for hours! In reading, we can start to identify the different elements of the articles and preview all of the different skills. Following this, students can brainstorm with another about topics they might find fun to write about. We can move this into a class discussion and have students write about their topic ideas on the board and discuss together how we might support one topic with reasons, and then move back into class discussion.
Understanding the Difference Between Fact and Opinion
We can’t read about everything, or students will get bored, so it’s time for a game. This is a fun way to review fact vs. opinion from PBS Kids Pinky’s Fact or Opinion Game. Fact vs. opinion is something that is also covered in Grade 3 according to the Core Curriculum Standards, so most students should have pre-existing knowledge of what this means. After explaining it myself, I will let students watch this video in groups or pairs (depending on the tech available at school) and play the game to identify whether it is fact or opinion. It’s nice because this includes a quick review as well as assessment, so it shouldn’t take up too much time, and will allow us to move into…
At this point, we can review what we have covered through “Develop a thesis statement,” by Rebecca Hipps (2012). This video reviews what we have covered so far – identifying a topic, fact vs. opinion – and goes on to describe how we can use our facts and/or opinions to provide supporting reasons for our selected topics. It also does a great job of modeling do’s vs. don’ts. Following this students will fill out a graphic organizer that specifically asks for topics and reasons. The students can then work together to discuss their topic ideas and reasons for picking this topic. They will be asked to give feedback to one another to help one another begin forming strong topics.
Creating an Organizational Structure on Their Own
Though I will use graphic organizers again to help students visualize how to structure their writing pieces into a logical writing assessment, I will test them through a puzzle game to see if they can organize paragraphs. I will type up topics and supporting reasons and laminate them and leave them on desks. I will then group the students and have them move around through the stations and try to put the short paragraphs in order as quickly as they can. Though there won’t be any prizes for the fastest teams, the students will be asked to work quickly and sit down when their team thinks they are finished. I will then walk around and make sure their team is ready to move onto the next station.
Reading an Article To Confirm How To Use Your Own Ideas to Support Your Topic
We will read more articles, students reading on their own, to circle the main topic and underline supporting reasons. The lesson will be differentiated in that some students will read more articles based on their reading ability, and some will read fewer if they are struggling to get through the text. There will be at least four articles available so students that work more quickly have additional articles they can read and continue practicing the skill. The work will be handed in to the teacher to be marked.
There will be assessments along the way to that will help me gauge if the students will be able to meet the desired end goals for 4.1.A and B. They will also allow me to give students feedback to help support the standard goals and make sure students are understanding the material and on the right track:
- Read, Circle, Underline. – Identify the elements. The teacher will have students read a short article on their own and identify the topic by circling it, and underlining the three supporting reasons for the author to use that topic.
- Arrange the Argument. – After the puzzle game, the teacher will ask the students to arrange sentences into a logical order on their own. They will have to arrange the topic and supporting sentences by putting them in the correct order. I will have them do this for at least three texts.
- Write It Out! – Students will be asked to complete a short writing that introduces a topic and gives three reasons why they support that topic. The teacher will use a writing rubric to mark how well they are doing so far. This is an assessment that is just a stepping stone to the overall goal so that I can gain a better idea of where the students all are, and what we need to work on.
Each of these activities and assessments are on the road to reaching the overall goal: each student being able to write, “Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information” (English Language Arts Standards). All of the activities will continue to build on one another to eventually have the students writing their own texts with confidence.
Arthur . Games . Binky’s Facts and Opinions | PBS Kids. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://pbskids.org/arthur/games/factsopinions/
Connell, G. (2015, March 4). Graphic Organizers for Opinion Writing | Scholastic.com. Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/top-teaching/2015/03/graphic-organizers-opinion-writing
English Language Arts Standards » Writing » Grade 4. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/W/4/
Hipps, R. (2012, October 23). Develop a thesis statement–Lesson 2 of 6 (Common Core W.4.1a). Retrieved March 21, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8Gu3Md5r-M