‘I don’t know what to write …’

Generating ideas for writing is one of the challenges of teaching persuasive writing to primary school children.  It’s perhaps easy enough to teach the structure of the persuasive genre; it’s perhaps easy enough to teach the use of persuasive language and devices.  But if children have no ideas to write about, then it’s difficult for them to demonstrate their understanding of the textual features.

So what are some of the ways in which you can build content?

  • If the topic lends itself, show a video or explore a website together. Construct a set of shared notes as a result of the discussion.
  • Think. Pair. Share. In pairs, students discuss what they know about the topic and then share their thoughts and ideas with another pair.
  • As a whole class, brainstorm ideas about the topic, using a concept map. Use the concept map as a basis for organising various possible points of view on the topic.
  • Use todaysmeet and invite children to make comments and ask questions about the topic.  Use their input as the basis for a whole class discussion. Where children have offered ‘I think..’ or ‘I believe…’ comments, encourage them to support their arguments with evidence, and ask others to offer an opposing argument.
  • Ask students to work in pairs or groups to create a table to list ideas for and against a point of view. Have them share their table with another pair or group to build more content.
  • Use a ‘speed dating’ configuration in which children form two lines so that they stand opposite a partner.  Each pair then exchanges ideas on the topic during a specified period of time (eg, two minutes) before moving on to the next partner for a further exchange.
  • Where the topic lends itself, divide the class into groups that represent the stakeholders who are likely to have differing points of view on a particular topic.  For example, if the topic were ‘Students should be encouraged to walk or bicycle to school’, then the stakeholders might be the students, their parents, people interested in promoting a healthy society and teachers. Ask students to consider the point of view that each stakeholder is likely to hold, and the arguments that might be put forward to support each point of view.
  • Conduct a ‘lucky dip’. On an A4 sheet of paper each student writes a statement, an opinion or a question about the topic.  These are then placed in a box and students select one to which they respond.  (This activity could also be conducted electronically on a wiki or in a google doc.)  Students go back to the lucky dip several times, each time reading what has been written previously by other students and adding their own statement, opinion or question.
  • Have a class debate.  Half the class is designated to support one point of view on the topic, and the other half is asked to support the opposing view.

These activities, as well as building the necessary content to be used in a piece of persuasive writing, also encourage thinking skills, promote collaboration and, in some cases, provide opportunities to use speaking and listening skills.