Our county followed a schedule this year of how to teach writing. First quarter we taught narratives, second quarter was informative writing, and third quarter we are (now) teaching opinion writing. The fourth quarter is sort of a review for any areas our kids need more practice in.
At the beginning of the third quarter we gave our students a baseline opinion writing task. This was to get an idea of where our students were without any teaching of opinion writing. I could tell my babies tried, but needed a great bit of instruction. After meeting with my amazing team and throwing ideas around, here's what we came up with.
The prompt we used (which I can't share--sorry!) asked students to read two texts and to give their opinion on which animal had the most remarkable migration. The first text talked about many animals and their migrations, while the second text was only about butterflies. What I found with my students was that they chose the animal they found to be the coolest, even if that super cool animal only had one tiny bit of information about them (as seen in yellow). With that being said, step number one was to go back in the text and highlight information about each animal in a different color. This allowed students to see which animal had the most information they could use in their papers. This was an eye-opener.
The next step was to practice unpacking writing prompts. Several prompts ask students to answer more than one question, and students must first slow down and find all the steps to be successful. I created these practice prompts for students to use. It was a struggle with the first prompt, but gradually it became easier. If you'd like a copy of the prompts I used, just click here or on the picture to download these. :)
After my students could successfully unpack a prompt, we of course made sure we could unpack the prompt we used as a baseline. Then we looked at student writing samples that were typed up and practiced coding the text. We used yellow, pink, and green highlighters to code the different parts of our paper that should be present. It was quite funny at how easily they grade others' papers! Coding the text was an activity we did as teachers at a writing PD we had. We had to code student papers, which was an amazing thing to do, so I decided I'd let my students do the same with sample papers, and then their own papers.
I loved the light bulb moments that happened when students coded their own papers!
The next steps for us are to practice writing more introductions together, and then eventually re-write our papers entirely. This writing "stuff" is definitely a learning process, for both the students and me!