Monday, April 20, 2015

Common Core IRL: Looking at Persuasive Writing & Mentor Texts (ages 9-12)

Students and teachers around the US are writing persuasive essays with renewed interest, as the Common Core explicitly calls on students to write opinion pieces that support a point of view with reasons and information. See, for example, the ELA Writing Standard 5.1.

At the Emerson Library, we have been reading Can We Save the Tiger?, by Martin Jenkins, to see how he develops his argument and supports it with reasons and information. Read my full review of this terrific nonfiction picture book. Today, I want to take you into our concluding library lesson, where we examined Jenkins' text to see how we could learn from his writing.

We read the concluding two pages, projected on the screen. For each page, I asked students what key phrases they noticed that were particularly powerful. You'll see their responses in green below.

Students noticed that Jenkins began his conclusion with, "So you see, trying to save just one endangered species..." Their teacher drew this back to a phrase they had used in class: "As you can see..." Other students noticed the way he wrapped up his conclusion (see below) with a question to pull readers in: "And I think that would be a shame, don't you?"

We wanted a little more specifics about helping tigers, so we turned to online research. The World Wildlife Fund has several very helpful pages about problems tigers are facing and action we need to take. This makes terrific model writing. Here's just one of the sections we looked at and the students' responses.

This paragraph is written in the same form that students are using in their writing. The claim or argument is "One of the biggest threats to tigers in poaching." WWF supports this with evidence and then elaborates their reasons. Students noticed the way facts were included within this paragraph, as well as explanations. They drew attention to the following phrases:
  • "One of the biggest threats..."
  • "Poaching has reached critical levels..."
  • "Governments around the world must combat poaching..."
  • "Nepal has already proved..."
We talked about how they can use similar language in their own writing, regardless of the topic.

School librarians play an essential role in helping students develop their persuasive writing skills. We help identify mentor texts, for students to read on high-interest topics. Much of my work in this area has been influenced by Melissa Stewart's writing on mentor texts. I definitely recommend reading her wealth of posts about this topic.

School librarians also help students dig deeper into topics they care about, guiding them on authentic research. So much information is available on the Internet, but it is critical that we help students effectively find information they can read and understand. I used our library catalog's Destiny Web Path Express to target the WWF article.
This post is part of my larger body of work: Common Core IRL: In Real Libraries. My thinking and work in this area is greatly helped by conversations with fellow bloggers and friends, Alyson Beecher, Cathy Potter and Louise Capizzo. See our full presentation from last summer here.
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©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


  1. Helping students develop their persuasive writing skills is a really challenging work for School librarians.This article focuses well on this side.Regular practice of writing paragraphs as well as explanations further increases their essay writing ability. All the best for your blog!

  2. As a parent I've seen an up tick in writing of persuasive pieces as well. There is an emphasis on making claims, evidence, analysis and linking to prior knowledge. I see that activities like this will only help to foster those emerging writing skills. Nice post.