I’ve recently stumbled into a pretty effective way to teach research-based persuasive writing. I’ve been taking it a day at a time with my students (continuing my year-long goal of letting students lead). It’s chronicled (so far) below:
The Internet as Framework
As a person that has been branded a “tech guy,” sometimes it’s hard to convince people of the merits of the Internet as a sociological entity (rather than a tool). The internet can exist as a resource, but it also can provide a framework by which we understand a process.
Take persuasive writing, for example.
The Internet can provide a wonderful framework for students to understand the importance of good writing, simply by laying out some facts about it.
For example, in teaching how to be concise, I tend to use the following framework:
There are 2,000,000 new blog posts on the Internet every day. There is absolutely no reason for a person to read anything that’s not immediately engaging and interesting. If a writer doesn’t (a) immediately engage the reader, and (b) quickly provide a context for what they engaging idea is relevant to the reader, the article/post/essay is dead.
Don’t Write More, Write Less
Using the Internet as a framework, students are able to contextualize the need for concise and clear writing. Following this up with an assignment that asks them to answer an essay question in 150 words is a way to reinforce this concept. It also forces students to determine what arguments and ideas, specifically, are essential to their piece of writing. Coincidentally, the 5-6 sentences that can be fit into these 150 words, if workshopped and perfected over a day or so, can then stand as a series of topic sentences for an essay.
After the students are convinced that each of the sentences in their “perfect” 150 words can stand as a topic sentence, the next step is to do further research. At this point, students have become so enamored of their short paragraph that they have a hard time thinking additional material will make it better. I tend to use a baseball analogy here: If you tell me a baseball player is great because he hit .320, that’s fairly compelling. However, if you tell me he’s great because he’s great because he hits .320, with a .400 OBP, 40 HRs, and terrific defense, that’s convincing. The first answer tells part of the story and is correct, but incomplete. The second makes a case, paints a picture, and is both correct and thorough. Students need to understand that while an opinion might not be “wrong,” per se, it can be “bad.”
Bringing it All Together
The final process involves taking all of this material and unifying it under one common argument. While we haven’t gotten to this point yet, the questions I’m getting from students about the process have given me the sense that they are already anticipating the most important next steps that will get them there.
Overall, I could not be happier with where we’ve gone so far. This process has been slow and deliberate, but it has both allowed me to give better, more targeted feedback (leading in one case to a differentiated assignment for a particularly skilled writer), but also forced the students to see their work as an argument to be built, not a series of boxes (intro, body, conclusion) to be checked off.
More as it concludes…