3 Tips for Teaching Opinion Writing

Opinion writing might be the most fun you’ll ever have when it comes to teaching writing. And if you’re feeling a little doubt about that, let me help you get started. Done the right way, opinion writing can pull out the passion and enthusiasm in your young writers and spark some serious debates. Teaching students how to form and support an opinion is not only an essential writing skill, it will serve them well throughout their life. But if you’re new to teaching opinion writing, are looking for some fresh ideas, or just struggle with teaching writing in general –  I’ve got you covered! Let’s dig into how to get started with opinion writing. And don’t forget to grab your free starter pack at the end! 

Tip #1: Know Where You Are Going 

Before you begin any writing unit or project, be sure you know where you are going. What are your expectations for your students? What is your expected end result? If you don’t know where you are going, then how will you know when you get there? When you get ready for a unit of writing, you want to get really clear on what you expect of your students as an end result. It is important to do this for yourself so that you have a clear vision for the unit. But you also want to communicate that with your students so they know what is expected of them. For example, on the low end, your goal may be a 3 paragraph essay (or even just a paragraph that includes these elements):

  • Introduction (states the opinion)
  • Body Paragraph (gives a reason and supports the opinion)
  • Conclusion

Or you might want students to complete a 4 paragraph essay.  

  • Introduction: (states the opinion)
  • Body Paragraph #1 (1st Reason) 
  • Body Paragraph #2 (2nd Reason)
  • Conclusion (restate opinion)

Or your students may be expected to complete a 5 paragraph essay: 

  • Introduction: (states the opinion)
  • Body Paragraph #1 (1st Reason) 
  • Body Paragraph #2 (2nd Reason)
  • Body Paragraph #3 (3rd Reason)
  • Conclusion (restate opinion)

Having a clear and basic organizational structure can make the actual writing process so much easier. You’ve got to have a plan! Another benefit of having a clear structure is that it allows you to scaffold and differentiate as needed. You can also break down student struggles into the different parts of the writing and zoom in your teaching on that. 

It is also important to remember that depending on your students’ journey in writing thus far, an essay might be too much. An opinion paragraph might be a better place to start. We don’t want our students to feel like every part of writing is a struggle, this is where the frustration and negative association with writing come in. We want them to feel small wins and successes along the way. This is how they build confidence. And more confidence breeds more motivation. More motivation leads to stronger writers. And happy writers. 

Once you know what your end goal is, then you can map out your teaching points to get you from here to there. I love using a unit calendar to see the unit as a whole. The writing unit calendar helps you determine what you are teaching and when. It helps you to see the flow of your unit. You can adjust as needed depending on your students. I include a unit calendar in each writing unit

Use a Writing Unit Calendar to Guide Your Teaching 

The unit calendar has all the teaching points for the unit. It is set up in the format of a calendar so you can see how long the unit will take and adjust as needed. This handy little unit calendar can also help you guide your one-on-one and small group writing conferences. You can keep a copy of your unit calendar inside your conferring binder or writing notebook. If you aren’t sure what to teach your students during a conference, then just go to your calendar to see which teaching points fit their needs. This is a great way to gauge whether your students are applying the skills taught in the unit. You students may need a specific skill that is not on the calendar. Take note of that! If you have a small group or a lot of your students struggling with a skill, you can either add it to the unit as a whole group lesson OR look for it as you confer with other students. For example, you might notice through conferring that many of your students are struggling with writing a complete sentence. This isn’t something you planned to explicitly teach in your unit, but it needs to be addressed. Add that lesson in! 

Tip #2: Begin with choice!

While this will absolutely depend on your grade level, curriculum, and assessments (especially if you are a grade level that is heavily focused on testing), I wholeheartedly believe that it is best practice to begin any kind of writing with choice. But we all know that best practices sometimes get trumped by policies and requirements. So if you are able to begin with choice – do that! If you are not, don’t worry, I have other ways to help your students enjoy writing. As long as you stay positive about writing, your students will receive that positive energy and follow suit. Not always, but you have to set the tone. 

Why does choice matter? Giving students choice in what they write about increases engagement. This is because they are invested in the quality of their work. They genuinely care about what they are writing about. Giving students choice also leads to their voice. When students are writing about a topic they care about, they are going to write in a way that they might speak. They get excited and enthusiastic about the topic. Especially when it comes to opinion writing. Those kids will get passionate!!! ALLLLL their feelings will come out. It is truly an incredible thing to watch them support a topic with such enthusiasm. And guess where all that passion and enthusiasm goes – into their writing. Our job as writing teachers is to help them translate that excitement and enthusiasm into their writing. So what does that look like in an opinion writing unit? 

In my own classroom (all three grade levels → 3-5, but I even used the same method in middle school), I knew that students needed to eventually be able to write in response to a text and support their opinion using text evidence. However, I really wanted to get them excited about opinion writing and kick off the unit in a fun way. 

You can teach students to get their own ideas for opinion writing by teaching them to think about their home, school, community, and the world. Then they ask the questions: 

  • What bothers me? 
  • What is there? 
  • What could be there? 
  • What would I like to change? 
  • What is the problem?
  • What is my solution? 

 

 

If you don’t have time in your teaching progression to have students first write about a topic of choice, then here are some ways you can hack choice. 

1.   Teacher-Approved Research: Students can write about a topic of choice, but they must have 2-3 teacher-approved articles from the internet and/or books from the library. In my classroom, we had access to laptops one day a week. Students were able to find an article online. If you go this route, you might have students copy and paste the link into a Google Doc and share with you OR simply write the website in their notebook.  

2.  Give students a list of topics to choose from. While giving students choice is a good thing, it can also be a bit much for students and they need some guidance. I created a list of debatable topics, which are opinion writing topics for students. This way they have something to choose from when it comes to writing their opinion.

 

Even if you don’t have students write a complete essay on the topic, this is a great way to have students start flexing their opinion writing muscles by writing small and simple entries in their writing notebooks.

3.  Choose high-interest texts. Select the texts based on your students’ interests. You could have students vote on a topic they write about or as a class, make a list of their interests that they would like to write about. Exude enthusiasm about all topics, but if they are helping you come up with the list, then there is going to be way more engagement.  

At the end of the day, you may be teaching in a setting where you know giving students a choice is best practice, but you also have to get them ready for state testing or writing to a deadline. There are a lot of texts out there, but be a critical consumer when it comes to what you put in front of your students. If you are not interested in a text, then that may be a sign that your students most likely won’t be either. You won’t bring that same energy into teaching how to write in response to the text, so if you find yourself with a lackluster text set in front of you – scrap it and move on. One of the reasons I created the monthly text sets was to have more options for the topics my students were writing about.

Tip #3: Use a Mentor Text(s)

Once you have determined WHAT your students will write about, select a mentor text or two that you will use throughout the unit. And have I got the book for you! A Pig Parade is a Terrible Idea by Michael Ian Black is my absolute favorite book teach opinion writing.


Not only is it humorous, but it provides a great structure for an opinion essay. I use this book all throughout the opinion writing unit for the hook, conclusion, transition words, reasons and evidence – it is so rich with what you are trying to teach.

If you haven’t used a mentor text before, here is how I typically use the mentor text in a given unit.

Read Like a Writer

Before you teach strategies and techniques about opinion writing – study that type of writing. And I don’t mean just you. You and your students. Each of my units begin with the same lesson tweaked in the slightest bit – the genre. Writers study the characteristics of the kind of writing they will do – ______. For this unit, it’s opinion writing. We spend a full day studying the characteristics of that type of writing. This is important because students see the big picture! They see what their endgame is. As humans, that’s important! We want to know what we are working towards. We want to see our end. We are beginning with the end in mind. This goes right back to #1 → Know where you are going! You can follow this structure to study a mentor text: 

1. Read the text once for the gist. Preferably, you have already read this text as part of Reading Workshop to model reading strategies (by the way this is a great book for teaching how an author supports his or her point). However, with this particular book and unit, I jump right in and set a purpose for reading the book. 

2.  Set a purpose for reading the mentor text. You might say something like this:  “A Pig Parade is a Terrible Idea! Wow! That is a very strong opinion! Already, just from the title, I know how this author feels and he (Michael Ian Black) has stated his opinion strong and bold. That is a bold statement. As I am reading today, I want you to listen for some of the language that he uses to express his opinion and the characteristics of opinion writing. We’re going to be thinking, What makes this opinion writing? What does he do as a writer?”

3.  Create an anchor chart. Create a class anchor chart to note the characteristics of informational writing. You can use the chart below (it’s a freebie!) to guide students’ thinking, but you want them to come up with some characteristics on their own. You can then give them the writing notebook chart after the lesson OR hand out the chart before the lesson. They can use highlighters/colored pencils to highlight certain things they notice or keywords while you are teaching. The more I use notebook charts, the more I find the value of using them to teach the lesson so that students know how to use them during Independent Practice. Also, they begin to use them as a continuous resource, not just another sheet of paper. You definitely want to have some ideas in mind for what you expect students to identify as the characteristics. And that’s when the notebook chart comes in handy!  

This is only the beginning of what’s possible when teaching Opinion Writing, but I promise you it sets a powerful foundation for you and your students. I’ve put together a unit sampler of the Opinion Writing Unit that will help you get started with teaching opinion writing based on everything covered above.

What is included in the free sample of the Opinion Writing Unit?  

  • Opinion Writing Unit Calendar (suggested teaching points) 
  • the first lesson plan in the unit
  • notebook charts
  • PowerPoint + Google Slides sample

If you’d like more support with teaching opinion writing, then I’ve got you covered in the complete Opinion Writing Unit. 

What is included in the complete Opinion Writing Unit? 

  • Introduction to the Unit
  • Daily Lesson Plans
  • Teacher Sample Writing
  • Notebook Charts (Half – Size and Full- Size)
  • PowerPoint/Google Slides for each lesson 
  • Mini Word Wall
  • Rubric & Checklists
  • Graphic Organizer
  • Sorts and Other Engaging Activities
  • Publishing Paper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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