Ask first graders to share their opinions and the song Who Let the Dogs Out immediately comes to mind. They will seriously pepper us with opinions faster than flies can invade a juicy burger in the summertime.
Ask them to write their opinions and support them with reasons…well…that’s a whole different story.
It’s not unusual for a first grader to write something like this: I like art best because it is fun. It is really fun. It’s really super duper fun.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. We’ve all been there.
Now the question is…are you ready to make opinions such as these a thing of the past?
If so, stick with me as I share 10 teaching tips that are guaranteed to take your first graders’ opinion writing to the next level.
1: IMMERSE YOUR STUDENTS IN MENTOR TEXTS THAT INSPIRE OPINIONS
Oh how we teachers love mentor texts. They’re fun to read, engaging for students, and pack a powerful instructional punch.
The trick is choosing the right ones.
There are so many to choose from. Ultimately, we want to choose books that will inspire our students to form passionate opinions.
Here are a few favorites:
- I Wanna Iguana by Karen Kaufman
- The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry
- The Best Part of Me: Children Talk About their Bodies in Pictures and Words by Wendy Ewald
- Not Norman: A Goldfish Story by Kelly Bennett
- The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt
- Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems
- The Perfect Pet by Margie Palatini
- I Wanna New Room by Karen Kaufman
I think you’ll agree with me when I say that mentor texts are a great way to introduce our students to new writing genres.
Once we’ve dug through our book collections and have chosen a few books that will inspire our students to form strong opinions, we’re ready for the next step.
Read! Then informally have students either verbally share or engage in a quick write to express their opinions.
2: AUTHENTICALLY TEACH STUDENTS TO DISTINGUISH FACTS FROM OPINIONS
Ask our students if it’s a fact that recess is the best part of the school day.
Try it! I did.
The result? Picture an overjoyed classroom with students grinning from ear to ear and proudly exclaiming that it is definitely a fact that recess is the best part of the school day.
Which leads us to this:
Our children need to be taught how to distinguish facts from opinions.
They need to be taught that a fact is a true statement that can be proven to be true. A factual statement is true for everyone. For example: A cow needs food and water to survive. Everyone would agree that this statement is true. It’s a fact.
And an opinion is how a person thinks or feels about something. It’s true for some, but not for everyone. For example: Cats make the very best pets. Everyone would not agree that this statement is true. If it’s not true for everyone, and cannot be proven to be true, it’s an opinion.
How can we practice this skill with our students?
Again, mentor texts for the win. We’ll want to choose books that have both facts and opinions in them.
For example, the book I Wanna Iguana (by Karen Kaufman), is full of facts and opinions. Above is a picture of one of the pages. The premise of this book is that Alex (the boy) is trying to convince his mom to let him have a pet iguana. On this page a fact is presented (iguanas are really quiet) and an opinion (they’re cute…cuter than hamsters).
After teaching our students the difference between facts and opinions, grab a mentor text and practice.
With the example above, we could ask our students if the following are facts or opinions about iguanas.
- Is it a fact or an opinion that iguanas are quiet?
- Alex states in his letter that iguanas are cute? Is that a fact or an opinion?
- Is it a fact or an opinion that iguanas are much cuter than hamsters?
So let’s grab a few mentor texts and begin practicing the skill of deciphering facts from opinions with our students.
3: MASTER VERBALLY SHARING OPINIONS AND SUPPORTING REASONS
Would you take a first-time skier to the top of a mountain and drop them off after you’ve told them how to ski? Of course you wouldn’t. You’d work up to it. (Unless, of course, we’re talking about my husband…which is a story for another time.)
Before we teach our students to write opinions and support those opinions with reasons, we want to practice this skill verbally. As we all know, opinions come easily for little humans, reasons…not so much.
How can we do this?
One fun way to practice this skill is to play Would You Rather?. Our students gobble this activity up like they devour ice-cream on a hot summer day.
Here’s how to play:
Present a Would You Rather question to the class such as this: Would you rather spend a day at a park or at a beach?
Give students time to decide what they’d rather do and have them think of a reason to support their opinion. Tell students that they must be ready to share not only their opinion, but also their reason why they chose what they chose.
Designate two areas in your room for your students to go to. For example, you might have your students who would rather spend the day at the park move to the left side of the classroom, and students who would rather spend the day at a beach go to the right side.
Have students share out their opinion and reasons for their opinion. Repeat.
Seize this opportunity to not only teach an essential skill to your students, but also as a learning-based brain break. Purposeful movement for the win!
4: VERBALLY TEACH CRITICAL PARTS OF AN OPINION WRITING PAPER
By this point our students have listened to opinion-based mentor texts, they’ve learned the difference between facts and opinions, and they’ve practiced supporting their opinions with reasons.
Do you see what we did? We’ve gently scaffolded learning for our young learners. Our students have now been exposed to all the critical parts of opinion writing prior to ever putting pencil to paper.
Now is the perfect time to verbally model an opinion writing piece while using think aloud to teach the parts of opinion writing. (Written modeling will occur a bit later…we are all about scaffolding so all our students have access to the learning.)
How can we do this?
An introduction to the parts of opinion writing might look something like this:
“Boys and girls, we’ve read lots of books and talked about opinions. We’ve learned the difference between facts and opinions. We’ve practiced giving opinions and supporting our opinions with reasons.
Today, we’re going to learn about a new kind of writing. It’s called opinion writing.
There are three important parts to opinion writing – an opinion statement, reasons to support the opinion statement, and a closing.
I’m going to use this picture of a hamburger to help you remember the parts of opinion writing (draw or show a picture of a hamburger – see example above).
On the top of the hamburger I see the top hamburger bun. (Point to the top bun.) That’s like my opinion statement. My opinion statement goes on the top. I’m thinking of an opinion statement I have. It’s this: Teaching is the best job in the world.
After the hamburger bun top I see some yummy fillings like tomatoes, cheese, and hamburger. These yummy fillings remind me of the reasons that support my opinion – they’re the juicy parts that strengthen my opinion.
I’m thinking of reasons to support my opinion that ‘Teaching is the best job in the world.‘
One reason is this: I get to work with kids every day. I love kids.
Another reason is this: Teachers are always learning new things. I love to learn.
See how simple that was. I stated my opinion, then gave reasons to support my opinion. Now I’m looking at the hamburger and I see the bottom bun. It reminds me that I need to finish my opinion writing piece by writing a closing sentence.
In my closing sentence, I want to restate my opinion in a different way. Hmmmm…. I want to say this: I have no doubt that teaching is the greatest job in the world.
When it’s time for you to do your own opinion writing, think of this hamburger. Remember that you’ll begin with an opinion statement, you’ll support your opinion statement with reasons that explain why you have that opinion, then you’ll write a closing sentence.”
5: CREATE A SIMPLE, BUT HIGHLY EFFECTIVE, OPINION WRITING PLAN
Imagine you have one day to move into a new classroom and be ready to teach the next day. (True story here. This is what happens when you volunteer to move to a portable, but the portable isn’t delivered to your school in a timely manner.) You frantically move all your things – haphazardly stuffing cupboards and other nooks as fast as you can.
Got the visual? What do you see. A gigantic mess that needs to be organized in a logical way? Exactly!
This is what can happen when we ask our children to write without first making a plan.
What does an opinion writing plan look like in first grade?
Simple – a web.
In the middle of the web we have our students write their opinion. Then they create spokes coming out from the center where reasons are written. If they want to add more details about their reasons, they create additional spokes off of the reasons. (This would be for our more advanced writers.)
Look at the picture above to help visualize what this looks like. One thing students might need instruction and practice with is writing just a word or two to express their reasons. We don’t want them using complete sentences here.
Why a web? It’s simple to use and gets the job done. No need to overcomplicate this step
6: TEACH AN INSANELY EASY PREWRITING ACTIVITY THAT LEADS TO KILLER RESULTS
Oral language matters – a lot! There’s a reason we have all those language standards.
Students who are given an opportunity to verbally share their stories prior to writing produce stronger writing pieces. Always!
By allowing our students to verbally share their ideas prior to writing, students are given an opportunity to shape, order, strengthen, and clarify their ideas in a non-threatening way.
The touch and tell strategy is effective and, best of all, it’s oh so simple.
This is what it looks like:
- Put students in small groups or pairs.
- Each student has a turn touching each part of their writing plan and verbally sharing full sentences to express their ideas.
- Always have students touch the center of the web first to share their opinion.
- Then have students touch each spoke (remember…the spokes contain reasons to support their opinions) and tell each part using full sentences.
- Finally, students touch the center again and give a closing statement that refers back to the topic.
That’s it. It’s as easy as a Sunday morning, yet as powerful as a young child’s ability to tug at our heartstrings.
7: MODEL HOW TO WRITE AN EXCELLENT OPINION PAPER
A heart surgeon observes many operations prior to ever performing an operation. A mechanic observes many engine repair jobs before attempting to repair an engine. Our students must observe the process of opinion writing – many times.
I’m not comparing creating an opinion writing piece to heart surgery or repairing engines, but the power of observation is the same.
We learn so much by observing experts. And you, my friend, are the expert.
This is what a modeled opinion writing lesson might look like:
“Okay my little writers, today I am going to show you how to write an opinion paper. I’m looking at the center of my web and it says that summer is the best season. I’m going to write this: I think that summer is the best season.
There, I just wrote my opinion, but now I have to support my opinion with reasons. I’m looking at my planning web and it says the word swim. Hmmmm… I can’t just write the word swim. That’s not a complete sentence. I’m going to write this: One reason I love summer so much is because I get to go swimming.
I want to say a little more about that. I’m going to write this: Swimming is the perfect way to cool off on a hot summer day.
When I look at my planning web, I see that I wrote barbecues. That’s because I love having barbecues. I’m going to write this: Another reason I love summer is because I get to have lots of barbecues.
I want to say a little more about that too. I’ll write this: I just love getting together with my family and friends to eat and play games.
I told my opinion, gave reasons to support my opinion, now I’m ready to write a closing sentence. The closing sentence reminds the reader of my opinion. I’m going to write this: While other seasons are great, summer is definitely my favorite season of all.
There, I just wrote an entire opinion writing paper. Next, you will begin writing your own opinion papers. I can’t wait to read what you write!”
8: LET THEM PUT PENCIL TO PAPER AND WRITE MAGNIFICENT OPINION PIECES
We’ve introduced our students to opinion writing pieces through mentor texts, taught them the difference between facts and opinions, practiced verbally sharing opinions and reasons to support those opinions, taught students the parts of an opinion writing piece and how to create a plan, practiced verbally sharing a story plan using touch and tell, modeled the entire process.
Now it’s time for us to set our students free to write and let them shine .
Have you ever painted a room (I have a bit of an addiction to changing the colors in the rooms of my house)? If so, you know how you’ve prepped, painted, cleaned, then sat on the floor to admire your work. This phase reminds me of that.
We’ve put in massive amounts of elbow grease. During this phase, we roam the classroom, provide support as needed, and just relish in the fact that we have set our students up for success.
Enjoy this phase.
9: HAVE STUDENTS EDIT THEIR OPINION WRITING PIECES – FIRST GRADE STYLE
Asking a first grader to edit their writing can often be like asking an exercise enthusiast to skip working out for a day.
They don’t wanna do it!
But do it, they must.
The good news, when we teach editing in context, it’s much more effective (yes…this is backed by research) – teaching editing skills through disconnected grammar skill activities simply doesn’t work (again…backed by research).
What does editing look like in first grade?
We’ll have our students reread their writing at least two times.
The first time we want them to read through their story to make sure it makes sense. A commonality here is that students may have forgotten to write a word or two. If they have, they simply insert a caret and add the missing word.
The second time, students will read through their opinion writing piece to check for conventions. Have them add capitals and punctuation as needed.
How do we teach the process of editing to students?
We’ll want to teach editing using our own writing examples. And we will want to model this process often using think aloud as we edit.
We need to be sure to make note of what errors the majority of our class is making. If forgetting to capitalize the word I is a biggie…we will want to model that. If capitals are missing at the beginning of sentences…we’ll want to model that.
In other words…let’s let our students guide our instruction.
10: HAVE STUDENTS REVISE THEIR OPINION WRITING – FIRST GRADE STYLE
Once upon a time revision in my classroom was something my students dreaded more than PE being cancelled.
Because I used to ask them to rewrite their entire paper! Every. Single. Time. (What was I thinking? Way to squash creativity and nurturing a love of writing!)
For the love of all that is good…do not do this! Instead…have them revise.. first grade style.
I can almost hear you asking: What does revising opinion writing first grade style look like?
Well…here it is:
Let’s have our students read their opinion writing yet one more time. This time, they’re looking for ways to make their writing stronger – more interesting. They do this by adding adjectives, adverbs, and details to their writing by simply inserting carets and words.
That’s it! Simple, effective, and developmentally appropriate.
A mini-lesson for revision might look something like this:
“Writers…Today I am ready to revise my writing about summer being the best season. I read though the whole thing and really like what I wrote, but I did notice one place where I could make my writing stronger.
I’m looking at this sentence: I just love getting together with my family and friends to eat and play games.
When I read that, I’m thinking of eating hamburgers because that’s what we usually cook when we have a barbecue. So I’m going to make a caret and write the word ‘hamburgers’ after the word ‘eat’.
I’m also thinking about how we play horseshoes when we have barbecues. So I’m going to add the words ‘like horseshoes’ after the word games.
Now I’m going to read my new sentence. It says: I just love getting together with my family and friends to eat hamburgers and play games like horseshoes.
Yes! I like that sentence much better. It has more details and the reader will be better able to picture what I’m writing about.”
On a side note…some of our first graders are not going to want to make any changes to their writing at first. Writing is hard work when you’re a little human that has to sound out so many words.
Just keep plugging away at modeling revision with your own writing and, when they’re ready, they’ll grab onto this concept and run.
11: LET STUDENTS CREATE WONDERFUL DRAWINGS
Children love to draw. So let them.
It’s a wonderful way for them to express their creativity. Plus, writing and drawing go hand in hand.
Some students will want to draw first. Let them. This can inspire ideas, organize thoughts, and ultimately lend a hand to stronger writing pieces.
Some students will want to write first. Let them. These are likely your linguistic learners. They have all the words already in their heads screaming to get out onto paper.
12: ALLOW TIME FOR STUDENTS TO SHARE THEIR OPINION WRITING MASTERPIECES
I’ve literally spent two weeks processing the most helpful opinion writing tips I could share with you on this blog. Just imagine how I’d feel if absolutely no one read it. (Granted, I teach during the day…so I only worked on it during the mornings, nights, and weekends.)
My point is this.:
Would I work this hard on my next blog? Would I put my all in to it? No way!
Guess what? The same is true for our students.
We always want to set a purpose for writing. When students know that others will be either reading or listening to their words, the whole process becomes more meaningful and authentic.
Here are a few ideas for sharing:
- Put students in pairs or small groups to share.
- Have an Author’s Chair and have a few students share each day, so that by the week’s end all students have shared.
- Ask another teacher if your students can share their writing with his or her students.
- Have students read their opinion writing pieces to someone in their home.
THE BOTTOM LINE
All first graders are capable of rockin’ the craft of opinion writing. Start small by emerging them into wonderful mentor texts, teach them how to decipher facts from opinions, have them practice verbally sharing opinions and support those opinions with reasons, and verbally share an opinion writing piece.
When we’ve done these things, we’ve built a strong foundation for them to stand on.
Once the foundation has been built, we’re ready to build the concepts of planning, writing, editing, revising, and sharing.
Take it slow.
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase ‘Go slow to go fast’. To insure success for all, make this your motto.
Are you ready to be the opinion writing teacher rockstar of the year?
YES! You are!
Until next time!
Be the change by staying positive, continuing to grow in your craft, and spreading goodness everywhere.