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The Big Fresh February 22, 2014 Making Opinions Matter

Brenda Power

Our opinions do not really blossom into fruition until we have expressed them to someone else.

                                                                 Mark Twain

On a recent Saturday I spent the afternoon with some elementary teachers who constantly push my thinking and make me laugh: the perfect combination. After enjoying some ice cream in near zero degree weather, we headed to one of our favorite spots, Cover to Cover Bookstore. We sort of take over the bookstore when we arrive, meandering into section after section of picture books to discover new treasures.

There was much talk about opinion writing. "Does anyone have a good picture book for teaching opinion writing?" was asked in one of the aisles. A long discussion ensued. What does opinion writing look like in young writers? When do we use it? What's the goal of an opinion piece? Are there strong mentors available for young writers? 

It wasn't long until I sat down to try to whittle my stack of seven picture books to three. I had assured myself I would only purchase three titles, but it wasn't going well. About that time, one of my friends asked, "What do you love about this one?" as she looked at the newest book by Jacqueline Woodson, This is a Rope. I looked at the book which had caught my attention because of its bright yellow cover, the idea that a rope might be significant enough to create a story, and the author. I glanced from the book to her and replied, "It's a great story." 

You really can't give an answer like that to a teacher, so I knew it wasn't enough. She was still looking at me and waiting. "Why?  What do you really like about it?" she persisted. I had picked it up and loved it, but I was having difficulty being specific enough. I knew she wanted to know more. She wanted me to reach deeper for a better, stronger response. Mostly, she wanted to know if I had seen something that she hadn't when I read it. 

Later that evening and still into the next day, her question stayed with me, "What do you really like about it?" The sincere interest made me move beyond my superficial response. I knew I loved Woodson's book as soon as I opened it and read the line, "This is the rope my grandmother skipped under the shade of a sweet-smelling pine."  Additionally, I was fascinated by the way the rope pulled story after story of her family into one narrative cord, tying generations together.  Despite all of these things, at the moment she asked I hadn't been able to sufficiently respond. 

It took me back to the opinion conversation we'd had in the stacks of our favorite bookstore. I wondered if kids sometimes felt like this when we were asking them to write their opinions. I realized mentor texts and examples of writing matter, but what matters most is writing about something that is genuinely important to us, to someone who genuinely cares about our opinion. The question was simple, but the expectation for response was not. These are the conversations I hope to have each day with the learners in my first grade classroom. 

This week we look at opinion and argument writing. Plus more as always -- enjoy!

Cathy Mere

Contributor, Choice Literacy

Cathy Mere is currently teaching first grade in Hilliard (Ohio) City Schools. She is the author of  More Than Guided Reading. A trained literacy coach and former Reading Recovery teacher, Cathy leads professional development workshops and presents at state and national conferences. She blogs at Refine and Reflect.

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Shari Frost describes how shared writing can build argument skills, especially for students who are struggling:


The previous essay is a excerpt from Shari's new book, Rethinking Intervention in Grades 3-6:


Heather Rader writes about the power of Touchy Topics for Opinion/Argumentative Writing:


We share some of our favorite texts for teaching opinion writing on this Pinterest board:


A unit on opinion writing is one of the topics covered in Katie DiCesare's online course Designing Primary Writing Units with the Common Core in Mind which begins on March 1. The ten-day course includes three webcasts, personal response from Katie, a DVD, and many print and video resources. For details on registering, click on the link below:


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When's the best time for some spontaneous opinion writing? Suzy Kaback argues it's when class conversations get hot in The Pause That Refreshes:


Our new argument cluster features contributions from Jennifer Burton, Katie DiCesare, Beth Lawson, and Heather Rader:


In this week's video, Ruth Ayres leads a minilesson in second grade on inside/outside views -- what's happening objectively (on the outside) vs. emotions (on the inside).  The terms are a good starting point for helping young students distinguish between facts and opinions:


We've posted the second installment in Heather Rader's series on sentence combining:


New PD2Go: In this conference with a fourth grader, Beth Lawson works with a student who has chosen a challenging essay topic for his opinion piece and is struggling to develop his thesis:


This video and workshop guide fulfills Common Core State Standard ELA-Literacy W.4.5: With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing.

That's all for this week!


Brenda Power

Brenda Power is the founder of Choice Literacy. She worked for many years as a professor at the University of Maine and an editor at Stenhouse Publishers. Her publications as an author include Living the Questions and The Art of Classroom Inquiry. She has worked as a book editor and video producer for many of the authors featured at this site.