Inquiry: How do I help students write persuasively and to go beyond the one-two sentence responses that I have received in the past?

Specific Task to Improve: “Save Energy!” poster assigned to students at the end of the semester (as part of their culminating activity) – I have always been a bit disappointed by the amount of persuasive writing (or lack thereof!) on this final project.

Class:  CGC 1PA (Gr. 9 Geography; students who choose locally-developed course type)


Step 1 – students were asked to try and persuade an audience to move to a specific location in Canada because of the climate there (Climate Unit!).  To make this task more engaging, they were asked to write a script and were given the opportunity to tape themselves using a video camera.

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Hover the mouse over the cue card image for text

Whistler is the best place to live because they have four seasons year around like spring, summer, fall and winter

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In the Summer, the temperature is about 18 C on average so you can go dirtbiking, 4-wheeling, and go for hikes. There is not too much precipitation to ruin your activities.

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In the winter the temperature is about -10c on average. This is good weather for snowmobiling, skiing & snowboarding. There are good hills & trails for all these activities.

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So, come to Whistler B.C. because there is a good climate all year round and you won't be disappointed!

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Step 2 – we viewed their brief videos as a class.  The class was asked to give input on what made each skit effective (persuasive) – they thought the following was important:  organization, entertaining (has to catch their attention), quality facts, and a selling statement to wrap it all up.  We discussed our final project (the “Save Energy!” poster) and talked about how we could relate these ideas to the poster.

Step 3 – I presented the students with a sample “Save Energy!” poster via overhead, delivered in various stages of persuasion (level 1 – 4).  The students identified what was lacking from the first sample, and as the samples shown became progressively better, they identified what had improved.  A process wall was created from this activity and reference was made to this throughout their work sessions.  A checklist that mirrored the various stages on the process wall was given to each student and kept in their process folder.  When students attempted to hand in their work (“I’m all done!”), they were re-directed back to their checklist to see if they had covered all the necessary qualities of a persuasive visual and written piece.

Click links to view larger versions of levels in new window

Level 1    Level 2     Level 3     Level 4     Process Wall
Level 1 Level 2 Level 3 Level 4

Additional Strategies: In addition to the process wall, the students were encouraged to tackle this project is small pieces.  We started by having them select one method for saving energy and encouraged them to stick with just this one suggestion.  Then the students were encouraged to gather as many supportive facts as they could on this one idea, and then narrow these down to the three most convincing facts.  The next session, we focused on finding a descriptive visual (a picture says a thousand words!), etc.  By sticking to one task per work period, the students avoided becoming overwhelmed and unfocused.
A sample opinion paragraph (unrelated to this project) was posted in the corner of the classroom; some reference was made to this to encourage students to include an intro, body, and conclusion in their writing (as shown in my sample on the process wall).
incentive for a good final product was given by letting the students know that their work would be displayed in the Geography Hall display case during the final exam period.

Students were encouraged to ask each other for feedback (“does this convince you to change your energy-wasting habits?”) during the poster process.

Summary of Process: Overall, the final product I received from students this year was much better than what I have received from similar students in previous years.  They were much more in-tune to the significance of visual communication, they realized why “less is more” (too many energy-saving suggestions and too much random information can detract from the persuasiveness of their efforts), and their written communication was much more effective and organized.  In future, I will extend this process further to help students improve the structure of their final written piece even more.

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