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Write in the Middle: A Workshop for Middle School Teachers

Teaching Persuasive Writing

In this session, participants visit two middle-level classrooms to see how teachers can help young writers develop effective and authentic persuasive pieces based on their own experiences and interests - for example, using cell phones in schools or altering their homework schedule.

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Workshop 4 Overview

The fourth workshop features the classrooms of two teachers: sixth-grade language arts teacher Jenny Beasley and fifth-grade teacher Jack Wilde. Both are teaching units on persuasive writing that allow students to write about topics that matter to them—topics drawn from their experiences within their own communities.

For Jenny’s students, the definition of community is wide-ranging — it includes their families, their school, and their town. But under this broad umbrella, Jenny encourages her students to think specifically and concretely about issues that interest them. The students begin by exploring a range of possible editorial topics. When we catch up with the class, they already have narrowed their focus to one issue. Now, with Jenny’s help, the students are laying the groundwork for effective and authentic editorials by stating their opinions, identifying their audiences and purposes, and beginning to think about support for their points of view.

Meanwhile, Jack is introducing his students to persuasive writing by asking them to write on a familiar subject—their school community. Using a skillful mix of modeling, brainstorming, and conferring, Jack is teaching his class how to develop and organize an effective persuasive essay. The children’s audience is the school principal and their purpose is to persuade him to go along with a suggested change—letting fifth-graders go home for lunch or giving students more computer time, for example. We see the students beginning their first drafts, well on their way to the unit’s culminating activity: choosing representative essays for the principal to read and respond to.

Key Practices To Observe in Workshop 4

In this workshop, you will see a number of effective practices for helping students develop as writers, including the following:

  • Teachers “invite” writing by leading students to write about matters they know and care about. The reason for writing is to accomplish something students find important: persuading others to bring about a desired change in the school or community. Students are writing for realistic, authentic purposes and are drawing on their own experiences and interests.
  • Teachers and students spend ample time preparing to write: brainstorming, talking, reading samples, making a list of features, conferencing, using a graphic organizer, and planning their arguments and methods of support for their ideas.
  • Teachers promote student ownership by encouraging students to share their thoughts about writing samples, ask questions, and make decisions about their own writing.
  • Teachers foster a positive atmosphere for writing by demonstrating respect for students and their writing, by expecting students to respect each other, by promoting student ownership, by encouraging students to share their thoughts, by offering positive response to students, by arranging for open discussion, and by listening carefully to students.
  • Teachers arrange for students to read and discuss samples of writing like those they are preparing to write.
  • Students analyze and evaluate samples and form lists of characteristics they can refer to as they develop their own writing. Teachers display model pieces on the overhead projector so students can both see and hear the sample and/or provide written copies for the students to refer to as they think about the writing.
  • In discussing samples, teachers use questioning techniques and synthesize students’ ideas to promote both an awareness of criteria for good writing and an understanding of why these features are important.
  • Teachers are sharply focused, methodical, and clearly intentional in conducting lessons about writing, such as lessons on building a persuasive argument, thinking about readers, or using an appropriate tone. Students are expected to apply these lessons in completing their own writing.
  • Teachers reveal useful techniques for managing a writing workshop, such as mini-lessons, teacher- and peer-conferencing, analysis of samples, sharing of ideas and works-in-progress, and modeling writing.
  • Teachers concentrate on helping students develop skills as writers; the emphasis of instruction is not solely on a particular piece of writing.

Related Reading

  • “Writing the Real Persuasion” by Patricia Grabill in English Journal, December 1992, pp. 60-62. Copyright 1992 by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission. (pdf)
  • “Turning Ripples Into Waves: Convincing Kids They Can Make a Difference” by Paige Passis in Voices From the Middle, Vol. 6, No. 4, May 1999, pp. 11-18. Copyright 1999 by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission. (pdf)

For more information and resources, visit the NCTE Web site at:

Jenny Beasley's Editorial Unit

Jenny Beasley checks in with students as they brainstorm ideas for an editorial.

Jenny Beasley‘s sixth-grade students spend approximately four to six weeks writing editorials on self-selected topics. The unit begins with a discussion of the various communities to which the students belong—family, school, neighborhood, town. Then, based on their own opinions and interests, the students choose issues confronting one of these communities, formulate positions on the issues, identify their audiences and purposes, and begin developing support for their positions. The unit culminates with polished editorials that reflect the children’s increasing knowledge of effective persuasive strategies and techniques.

Editorial Unit (pdf)

Jenny Beasley's Reflections

On writing for authentic purposes:
“The emphasis on writing in the state of Kentucky is, in my opinion, pretty unique… .”

On moving from personal writing to community exploration:
“We started out small with writing personal pieces and thinking pretty much about ourselves, and we’ve grown from there.”

Description of the editorial unit:
“We started out just brainstorming together some things that you could write about after we talked about what an editorial is.”

The importance of prewriting
“Prewriting activities could be, in my opinion, the most important step, because if they pick something that they are not passionate about, no matter what they’re writing, they won’t do a good job, they can’t.”

On using models
“I’m very fortunate where I teach that we have an hour and a half block for reading and writing.”

On using textbooks to teach grammar:
“With the editorials, for example, we’re about to talk about how to use quotation marks correctly.”

On planning instruction:
“Middle school students can’t sit still very long and listen to a teacher.”

Read the transcript of Jenny Beasley’s reflections.

Samples of Student Work

Editor’s note: The sample student papers have been reproduced exactly as the students wrote them, including mechanical and grammatical errors.

“Is it to Late” – Sample editorial (pdf)

“Shoe Strike” – Sample editorial (pdf)

“Safeguarding the Internet” – Sample editorial (pdf)

“Final Copy” – Sample editorial (pdf)

“Cell Phones in Our Schools” – Sample editorial (pdf)

Sample of student reflection on persuasive writing (pdf)

Jack Wilde's Persuasive Unit

Jack Wilde and his student review an early draft of a persuasive piece in an informal conference.

Each spring, Jack Wilde spends four to five weeks teaching his fifth-grade students to write their first persuasive essays. The pieces the students write concern things they would like to change at their school. Not only does the topic put them on familiar ground, the audience is always the school principal, someone whom they can readily analyze. In this way, Jack limits the students’ concerns about content so they can concentrate on what is new to them: developing and organizing an effective persuasive piece.

When the students complete their pieces, the entire class decides which essays are the most persuasive. These pieces are submitted to the principal, who visits the classroom to talk with the students about implementing their suggestions. Often, an idea that originated with a student becomes a reality at the school, underscoring for the children their ability to implement change through their writing.

Persuasive Unit (pdf)

Materials for Jack Wilde's Persuasive Unit

During the portion of the unit featured in Workshop 4, Jack uses the following classroom materials:

Jack Wilde's Reflections

On introducing students to non-narrative writing:
“The reason that I want my kids to do the persuasive writing is because I want them to have an experience writing non-narratively in fifth grade.”

Description of the persuasive unit:
“The way I start that, the persuasive writing piece, is that they write about … how they’ve gotten their parents to go from saying no to something, like having a sleep-over or getting to buy something, to saying yes.”

Reasons for rank-ordering arguments:
“The reason that I have my kids rank-order their arguments for and against is twofold.”

Read the transcript of Jack Wilde’s reflections.

Samples of Student Work

Editor’s note: The sample student papers have been reproduced exactly as the students wrote them, including mechanical and grammatical errors.

Various stages in one student’s piece, “Can We Go Out Back?”

Additional Samples:

Additional Resources

Allen, Janet. It’s Never Too Late: Leading Adolescents to Lifelong Literacy. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1995. ISBN: 0435088394.

Anderson, E. and F. L. Hamel. “Teaching Argument as a Criteria-Driven Process.” English Journal 80.7 (1991): 43-50.

Atwell, Nancie. In the Middle: Writing, Reading, and Learning With Adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1987. ISBN: 0867093749.

Booth, David. Reading & Writing in the Middle Years. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers, 2001.

Brueggman, Martha A. “React First, Analyze Second: Using Editorials To Teach the Writing Process.” Journal of Reading 30.3 (1986): 234-239.

Carnegie Council on Adolescent Behavior. Turning Points: Preparing American Youth for the 21st Century. New York: Author. ISBN: 0807739960.

Cynthia, Kay. “‘Real’ Classroom Writing.” Teaching Pre K-8 (1995): 30.

De La Paz, Susan and Marjorie Back. “Stop and Dare: A Persuasive Writing Strategy.” Intervention in School and Clinic 36.4 (2001): 234-244.

Fletcher, Ralph and JoAnn Portalupi. Craft Lessons: Teaching Writing K-8. York, MA: Stenhouse, 1998. ISBN: 1571100733.

Fletcher, Ralph. What a Writer Needs. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1993.
ISBN: 0435087347.

Fletcher, Ralph and JoAnn Portalupi. Writing Workshop: The Essential Guide. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001. ISBN: 0325003629.

Freeman, Marcia. Building a Writing Community: A Practical Guide. 2nd Edition. Gainesville, FL: Maupin House, 1995. ISBN: 0929895134.

Gleason, Mary. “The Role of Evidence in Argumentative Writing.” Reading and Writing Quarterly 15.1 (1999): 81-106.

Grabill, Patricia. “Writing the Real Persuasion.” English Journal 81.8 (1992): 60-62.

Graves, Donald. A Fresh Look at Writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1994.
ISBN: 0435088246.

Hoffman, J. Loraine. “Learning the Art of Persuasion.” Teaching Pre K-8 26.7 (1996): 58-60.

Light, Marcy B. “Research for the Social Good: Information, Persuasion, Illumination.” English Journal 84.2 (1995): 95-98.

“Making Arguments – Persuading People.” School Library Media Activities Monthly 15.6 (1999): 14-16.

Manning, Maryann and Gary Manning. “Twelve Guidelines for Teaching Writing in Middle School.” Teaching Pre K-8 (1994): 59.

Maxwell, Rhoda and Mary J. Meiser. Teaching English in Middle and Secondary Schools. Columbus, OH: Merrill, 1997. ISBN: 0130213624.

Mier, Margaret. “Strategies for Teaching Persuasive Writing.” Journal of Reading 28.2 (1984): 172-174.

Morretta, Teresa M. and Michelle Ambrosini. Practical Approaches for Teaching Reading and Writing in Middle Schools. Newark, DE: International Reading Association, 2000. ISBN: 0872072665.

Pappas, Marjorie. “Writing Editorials.” School Library Media Activities Monthly. June, 2003: 20.

Reduce, Anna D. “Genre Study of Non-Fiction Writing: Feature Articles, Editorials, and Essays.” Primary Voices K-6 August, 1999: 37-44.

Rief, Linda. Seeking Diversity: Language Arts With Adolescents. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1991. ISBN: 0435085980.

Romano, Tom. Clearing the Way: Working With Teenage Writers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1987. ISBN: 0435084399.

Schneider, D. “Teaching Writing in Middle School.” Teachers and Writers 23.4 (1992): 7-10.

Strahan, D., Tracy Smith, Mike McElrath, and Cecilia Toole. “Profiles in Caring: Teachers Who Create Learning Communities in Their Classrooms.” Middle School Journal 33.1 (2001): 41-47.

Van Horn, Leigh. Creating Literacy Communities in Middle Schools. Norwood, MA: Christopher Gordon, 2002. ISBN: 1929024428.

Vesterman, William. Reading and Writing Short Arguments. 3rd Edition. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield Publishing, 2000. ISBN: 0072556013.

Wilde, Jack. A Door Opens: Writing in Fifth Grade. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1993. ISBN: 0435087614.

Wilson, Lucinda M. and Hadley Wilson Horch. “Implications of Brain Research for Teaching Young Adolescents.” Middle School Journal (September 2002): 57-61.

Wormeli, Rick. Meet Me in the Middle: Becoming an Accomplished Middle-Level Teacher. Portland, ME: Stenhouse, 2001. ISBN: 1571103287.

Yeh, Stuart S. “Empowering Education: Teaching Argumentative Writing to Cultural Minority Middle-School Students.” Research in the Teaching of English 33.1 (1999): 49-83.

Zemelman, Steven, Harvey Daniels, and Arthur Hyde. Best Practice: New Standards for Teaching and Learning in America’s Schools. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1993. ISBN: 0325000913.