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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Many teachers are looking for ways to develop opinion and/or argumentative writing in their classrooms. Here are some excellent ideas. Courtesy of Choice Literacy. Enjoy!

The Big Fresh Newsletter from Choice Literacy
February 22, 2014 - Issue #371
Making Opinions Matter

Our opinions do not really blossom into fruition until we have expressed them to someone else.
                                                                 Mark Twain

On a recent Saturday I spent the afternoon with some teachers who constantly push my thinking and make me laugh: the perfect combination. After enjoying some ice cream in near zero degree weather, we headed to one of our favorite spots, the Cover to Cover Bookstore. We sort of take over the bookstore when we arrive, meandering into section after section of picture books to discover new treasures.
There was much talk about opinion writing. "Does anyone have a good picture book for teaching opinion writing?" was asked in one of the aisles. A long discussion ensued. What does opinion writing look like in young writers? When do we use it? What's the goal of an opinion piece? Are there strong mentors available for young writers? 
It wasn't long until I sat down to try to whittle my stack of seven picture books to three. I had assured myself I would only purchase three titles, but it wasn't going well. About that time, one of my friends asked, "What do you love about this one?" as she looked at the newest book by Jacqueline Woodson, This is a Rope. I looked at the book which had caught my attention because of its bright yellow cover, the idea that a rope might be significant enough to create a story, and the author. I glanced from the book to her and replied, "It's a great story." 
You really can't give an answer like that to a teacher, so I knew it wasn't enough. She was still looking at me and waiting. "Why?  What do you really like about it?" she persisted. I had picked it up and loved it, but I was having difficulty being specific enough. I knew she wanted to know more. She wanted me to reach deeper for a better, stronger response. Mostly, she wanted to know if I had seen something that she hadn't when I read it. 
Later that evening and still into the next day, her question stayed with me, "What do you really like about it?" The sincere interest made me move beyond my superficial response. I knew I loved Woodson's book as soon as I opened it and read the line, "This is the rope my grandmother skipped under the shade of a sweet-smelling pine."  Additionally, I was fascinated by the way the rope pulled story after story of her family into one narrative cord, tying generations together.  Despite all of these things, at the moment she asked I hadn't been able to sufficiently respond. 
It took me back to the opinion conversation we'd had in the stacks of our favorite bookstore. I wondered if kids sometimes felt like this when we were asking them to write their opinions. I realized mentor texts and examples of writing matter, but what matters most is writing about something that is genuinely important to us, to someone who genuinely cares about our opinion. The question was simple, but the expectation for response was not. These are the conversations I hope to have each day with the learners in my first-grade classroom. 
This week we look at opinion and argument writing. Plus more as always -- enjoy!
Cathy Mere
Contributor, Choice Literacy

Cathy Mere is currently teaching first grade in Hilliard (Ohio) City Schools. She is the author of  More Than Guided Reading. A trained literacy coach and former Reading Recovery teacher, Cathy leads professional development workshops and presents at state and national conferences. She blogs at Refine and Reflect.

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[For sneak peeks at our upcoming features, quotes and extra links,  follow Choice Literacy on Twitter: @ChoiceLiteracy or Facebook:
Shari Frost describes how shared writing can build argument skills, especially for students who are struggling:
The previous essay is a excerpt from Shari's new book, Rethinking Intervention: Supporting Struggling Readers and Writers in Grades 3-6:
Heather Rader writes about the power of Touchy Topics for Opinion/Argumentative Writing:
We share some of our favorite texts for teaching opinion writing on this Pinterest board:
A unit on opinion writing is one of the topics covered in Katie DiCesare's online course Designing Primary Writing Units with the Common Core in Mind which begins on March 1. The ten-day course includes three webcasts, personal response from Katie, a DVD, and many print and video resources. For details on registering, click on the link below:
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