Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Realistic Persuasion

So, for those of you who don't know, I taught high school English for two years, and I plan to return to teaching as soon as the right job fits in with my schedule and priorities. In other words, I'm looking for a part-time, close-to-home job, and I haven't found one yet.

But in the meantime...I think a lot about things I'll do or change when I get back into teaching. This morning, I had this brilliant idea and thought, "I need to write this down so I don't forget." Then I thought, "Hey, I need a blog post. Why not kill two birds with one stone?"

So you get my teaching idea, and I have a permanent place to store the idea. I'll probably never come back and look at this post again, but having written it down will help me commit it and its details to memory.

Anyway, I was thinking about how almost every secondary grade has a core standard concerning persuasive writing. And standardized tests require it too (i.e. UBSCT - Utah Basic Skills Competency Test - for one). But most of the time, students HATE these assignments/tests because they are unrealistic for them. Inevitably, the topics are ones they care little about, or have no opinion on. Thus, the "passion" necessary to be fully competent is lacking.

So here's my brilliant plan: assign them to persuade someone to get them a specific Christmas gift. I have also decided that when I teach writing again, I will teach it as a triangle: every piece of writing must consider audience, purpose, and genre. These three aspects all work together to create a strong piece of writing. When I teach, I will pick two of these and allow my students to decide the third. For this assignment, I would tell them to convince a loved one [audience] to get them a specific item for Christmas [purpose]. They can choose whatever genre will be most successful for that person (most likely it would end up being something like a letter or note).

This assignment could be flexible enough to accommodate the student who wants a new phone, or the one who wants "world peace." It would allow for a variety of discussions about what makes something persuasive (anticipating and addressing counter-arguments, data, compromises, etc.). Anyway, it would be a more realistic situation than what most students are forced to write today. And having learned the passion in this assignment, they will be able to "fake" the passion on standardized tests or future assignments because they will understand the successful techniques.

So what do you think? Any suggestions on how to make this assignment stronger? Or other "persuasive" assignments you gave or received that were particularly successful?