Persuasive Writing: Using adjectives as examples of positive and negative language

For Teachers

This activity might be used as an introduction to an exploration of the effects of positive and negative language in a persuasive text.

1.  With the class or group, do a quick brainstorm of their favourite dishes to eat as part of a meal.  Vote on the popularity of these dishes in order to select a specific dish on which to focus for this activity. Ask students to suggest a list of adjectives that could be used to describe the dish.  Because this is a ‘favourite’ dish the adjectives will be examples of positive language.

2.  Together, as a class or group, use some of these adjectives to write a positive description of the dish. Get the students to think about the audience for whom they are writing this.

For example,

This delicious chicken dish is easily prepared.  It only takes a few minutes.  The rich flavours are certain to appeal to your family.  They’ll love the sharp, tangy taste of the limes and the smooth, creamy taste of the sauce.

This description is written for a parent audience who cooks meals for their families.

3. Discuss with students how the language choice is likely to work to persuade the audience to want to prepare this dish.(Although not related specifically to the focus on adjectives, the above sample description also provides an opportunity to discuss the persuasive appeal of the statement: ‘are certain to appeal to your family’. If your shared writing activity produces something similar, take advantage of this to draw attention to other persuasive devices and how they work.)

4. Do another quick brainstorm, this time of ‘negative’ adjectives and then write a negative description of this  dish, or another suggested by the students.

For example,

The weird mixture of flavours  is very unpleasant.  The bitter taste provided by the limes and the fatty richness of the sauce completely ruins this chicken dish.

Again, discuss with students how the language choice is likely to affect the reader.

5.  Now ask students to work individually to create two short pieces of writing about a topic.  The first piece of writing should make use of positive language and seek to persuade a designated audience to do, to buy or to believe something.  The second piece of writing should make use of negative language.  Students could brainstorm a list of topics from which they might choose, but here are a few to get started:  school, television, sport, car journeys, school uniforms, computer games.  Do some ‘unpacking’ of the purpose so that students understand ‘to do, to buy and to believe’.  For instance, if the topic is ‘school’, the purpose might be to encourage prospective parents to send their child to your school; if the topic is ‘computer games’, the purpose might be to convince a parent to buy a particular computer game for their child.

Alternatively, students might work in pairs and then exchange their writing with their peer whose task is to change the language from positive to negative, or vice versa.

6. Share some of the writing with the class to analyse how students have used  the positive and negative language and to discuss its likely effectiveness on the designated audience.

Otisa.com.au features activities on both adjectives and persuasive writing.

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